DAVIE HINSHAW dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com
DAVIE HINSHAW dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

Crime

First day of testimony is finished in shooting trial of CMPD Officer Kerrick

By Michael Gordon and Elizabeth Leland

mgordon@charlotteobserver.com

August 03, 2015 8:50 AM

(Live updates from the courtroom below.)

The voluntary manslaughter trial is fully underway for Charlotte-Mecklenburg police Officer Randall “Wes” Kerrick, who is accused of wrongfully killing Jonathan Ferrell in a late-night encounter in 2013.

Basic facts

A jury will decide whether Kerrick used excessive force when he fired 12 shots at Ferrell, or whether he was justified because he thought Ferrell posed a deadly threat.

The 12-member jury has two people who are Latino, three African-American and seven white. Eight are women and four are men. The alternate jurors are all white, and consist of one man and three women.

If convicted, Kerrick faces three to 11 years in prison. He has been on unpaid suspension since the shooting.

According to police, Ferrell wrecked his fiancee’s car on his way home after an outing with friends and sought help at a house in a neighborhood east of Charlotte. The homeowner, afraid someone was trying to break in, called 911. Kerrick and two other officers responded, and the deadly confrontation ensued.

Ferrell, 24, had moved to Charlotte from Florida to be with his fiancee. He was a former scholarship football player for Florida A&M University. He was working at both Best Buy and Dillard’s at the time of his death.

5:30 p.m.: EMT testifies about arriving at scene

Emergency medical technician Jonathan Russell Freeze testified about arriving at the scene after Ferrell was shot. He said Ferrell was face down in a ditch and handcuffed. He checked for a pulse in the right wrist and right side of Ferrell’s neck, and then asked police if he could roll him over to check the other side for a pulse. He said he was told no by the officers on the scene.

Freeze then tended to Kerrick. He noted there was a red mark on the side of the officer’s cheek and a little bit of dried blood at the corner of his lip. He said he noticed blood on Kerrick’s hands, pants and shoes. “I saw blood. I asked him if it was his,” Freeze said. “I went to wipe some blood off of his hands before I was stopped by another officer.”

He said Kerrick was in shock, “real pale, clammy, and very upset.”

Freeze said that as he was leaving the scene, he saw a car wrecked in the trees and realized it was probably connected to the shooting.

Court is recessed for the day and is expected to resume at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday.

4:30 p.m.: More on the woman who called 911

For the past two hours, the defense and prosecution have questioned Sarah McCartney, who called 911 after Ferrell showed up at her house after wrecking his car. The defense team played the 911 call as well as the alarm system call.

Prosecution asks McCartney again if she ever saw Ferrell kicking the door, noting that the defense team keeps using the phrase “kicking in your door.” She says, “I did not see him.”

Prosecution shows McCartney a statement in which she said she heard a person saying, “Turn it off. Come back.”

She said she apparently said that although she does not remember it now.

The next witness for the prosecution is Jonathan Russell Freeze with the Harrisburg Fire Department, who arrived after Ferrell was shot.

4 p.m.: 911 and alarm company

Sarah McCartney said she did not hear her doorbell ring while Ferrell was outside, and never heard him ask for help or explain that he’d been in a wreck.

She said her alarm was triggered when she opened the door without first deactivating the alarm. She said it was not triggered by Ferrell.

When the defense team played the 911 call, McCartney appeared shaken as she listened.

The defense team also played the call with McCartney’s alarm company, in which Ferrell can be heard yelling from outside the house. McCartney said he was yelling to “shut it off, shut it off!”

3 p.m.: ‘I was terrified’

911 caller Sarah McCartney said Ferrell was pacing in her front yard, yelling for her to turn off the alarm. She said that she didn’t see him kick or bang on her door, but she heard it. He was yelling so loud that the alarm company heard him over the phone line, she said.

“I was terrified,” McCartney testified. “I was worried about my child.”

Asked by a prosecutor if Ferrell tried to force his way in, McCartney said, “As soon as I got it shut and locked, there was a bang on the door.”

She said she went to check on her child and to look for something to protect herself.

2:45 p.m.: Woman called 911 after Ferrell bangs on her door

The prosecution called Sarah McCartney as a witness. (Police say Ferrell walked to her house after wrecking his car.)

Sarah McCartney said she was asleep at home while her husband was at work. Her young child also was home asleep. She said she awoke to a loud banging on her door about 2:30 a.m.

She couldn’t see who it was, and the dog was barking loudly. She opened the door about a foot, thinking it might be her husband. “It was not my husband, so I shut the door really quickly,” she said.

She described him as “kicking and yelling” outside her door.

“I saw a man out the door,” she testified. “He was leaning back with one of his legs up in the air. That’s when I shut the door.”

She then ran to the bedroom to get her cellphone and called 911.

She described Ferrell as black with short dark hair, large, and wearing a green shirt. “He seemed very angry and mad,” she said.

Her door is two steps up. She said she didn’t recall which of Ferrell’s feet was in the air. She said she didn’t recall whether he was stepping up or stepping down. She said she saw nothing in his hands and that Ferrell never entered her home.

2:30 p.m.: Waitress testifies about Ferrell and his friends

Erica Hudson waited on Ferrell and his friends at Hickory Tavern the night he was killed. She said Ferrell, wearing a teal shirt and hat, was very polite and “one of the tamer ones” in the group. She saw him drink his own beer, but did not see whether he had any shots of liquor.

Ferrell ordered chicken wings and two Coors Light beers that night, Hudson testified. She said she was not aware of anyone else buying alcohol for Ferrell.

She said part of her job is to assess whether people are intoxicated, and she did not believe Ferrell was impaired when he left.

The woman who called 911 after Ferrell’s car wreck is now on the stand.

12:30 p.m.: Defense presses on alcohol and marijuana use

On cross-examination by the defense, Max Funderburke says the subject of smoking marijuana came up while he and Ferrell were talking at Hickory Tavern.

The defense points out discrepancies between Funderburke’s testimony and his prior statements to police. Funderburke’s prior statement said Ferrell had some shots of liquor; Funderburke said he doesn’t remember that now. His prior statement said it was Ferrell’s idea to go smoke marijuana, but Funderburke said he doesn’t remember that specifically.

Funderburke testifies under questioning by the defense that he cautioned Ferrell to slow down as he passed the Bradfield Farms neighborhood pool entrance “because I know police sit by the entrance to the pool.” (Ferrell’s wreck happened about a quarter-mile from the pool road, after he left Funderburke’s.) The speed limit is 25 mph.

Funderburke says he texted to Ferrell: “Good look on the ride,” which meant thank you.

Funderbruke also testified that he and Ferrell smoked marijuana once before, at a barbecue at Ferrell’s house. He said Ferrell’s fiancee was at the house when they smoked but didn’t partake. Earlier Monday, Heidel testified that Ferrell smoked marijuana only twice in his life and it was when they were in college.

The court recessed for a lunch break, and is scheduled to resume at 2 p.m.

12:10 p.m.: Marijuana use described

The prosecution has called five witnesses so far: Ferrell’s fiancee and sister, plus three friends he knew through work.

On the stand now is Max Funderburke, who lived in the neighborhood where Ferrell wrecked his car and then was shot dead. Funderburke testified that he arrived at Hickory Tavern with another friend and was originally supposed to ride home with him. But he ended up getting a ride from Ferrell.

Funderburke estimated the drive time was 20 to 25 minutes from the tavern to his home in Bradfield Farms. Ferrell wrecked his car after leaving Funderburke’s home that night, leading to his fatal encounter with police.

Funderburke says they did not smoke or drink anything in the car, and made small talk while Funderburke told him where to turn. He says Ferrell’s driving was “pretty normal.”

After watching TV for a few minutes at Funderburke’s house, the pair went into the garage and smoked some marijuana, Funderburke testified. He said it was a partial joint that they passed back and forth. He said he knows Ferrell put it to his mouth but does not know if he inhaled.

(The medical examiner report on Ferrell showed nicotine and caffeine, but no marijuana or other illegal substance. His blood alcohol was 0.06, within the legal limit for driving.)

Funderburke said Ferrell seemed fine to drive when he left, and he thought Ferrell would use the navigation on his phone to get home. A few minutes after Ferrell left, he said, he texted Ferrell because he’d forgotten to thank him for the ride.

Funderburke is still on the stand and has not yet been cross-examined.

11:10 a.m. Ferrell’s friend describes night out before shooting

Lucien Edwards, Ferrell's co-worker at Best Buy, described Ferrell as soft spoken and relaxed that evening when they socialized with a group of friends at Hickory Tavern.

That was the first night Ferrell had ever joined the group after work, Edwards said.

He was unsure of how much Ferrell had to drink. The group took a shot together, but Edwards wasn’t sure if Ferrell partook.

“Jon had one Bud Light sitting at his table that I remember,” Edwards said, but Ferrell was one of the more relaxed ones.

“Jon was just the same guy that I knew that night,” Edwards said. “I didn’t have any concerns.”

Edwards said he didn’t see Ferrell leave.

11 a.m. Ferrell ‘not really aggressive’

On cross-examination, defense attorney Michael Greene questioned fiancee Cache Heidel about Ferrell’s temperament. Greene pressed for details about Ferrell’s arrest in 2011 for assault and also his prior marijuana use.

Heidel noted that the charge was dropped, and the judge did not allow testimony it.

She said she knew of only two instances when Ferrell smoked marijuana.

Heidel also testified that she supported Ferrell financially. If confronted by police, she testified, that he likely would have become frustrated – “not really aggressive, though.”

10:35 a.m.: Ferrell’s fiancee emotional during testimony

Jonathan Ferrell’s fiancee broke down in tears on the witness stand as she recounted an argument they had on the last morning she saw him.

“I didn’t say I love you, and I didn’t say goodbye,” Cache Heidel said.

They had argued, she said, about his career and about his finding “a solid foundation” so they could one day marry and have a family.

“Jon would never raise his voice at me” she said. “I was mainly the aggressor.”

Jonathan Ferrell's fiancee testifies in Kerrick Trial

The voluntary manslaughter trial of former CMPD Officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick began Monday with opening statements and testimonies from the first few witnesses.

hcfowler@charlotteobserver.com

10:20 a.m.: Ferrell’s sister is the first witness

After opening arguments wrapped up, the prosecution called Ferrell’s sister as the first witness.

She was asked whether Ferrell was an identical twin. He was not. That was the only question she faced.

Ferrell’s fiancee is the second witness.

10 a.m.: Defense gives opening statement

Jonathan Ferrell’s bad choices forced Officer Wes Kerrick to “make the ultimate choice,” a defense attorney told jurors.

Ferrell’s DNA was found on the slide and trigger of Kerrick’s gun and beneath Kerrick’s fingernails.

“This case us not about race. It never was,” defense attorney Michael Greene said. “It’s about choice. “

He portrayed Ferrell in a negative light – having argued with his fiancee earlier that day, smoked marijuana with a friend and behaved aggressively when he knocked on a homeowner’s door after wrecking his fiancee’s car.

Ferrell was standing in a karate stance at her front door and then yelling afterward, Greene said.

“She didn’t hear him yell help because he never said it,” Greene said.

9:45 a.m.: Prosecution’s opening arguments

Jonathan Ferrell began crawling after Officer Wes Kerrick shot him, a prosecutor told jurors, and Kerrick shot him again.

Adren Harris, a special deputy attorney general, painted a harrowing image for jurors of what happened the night Ferrell was killed.

Ferrell was in fear of his life, Harris said, after another officer pointed a taser at him. He ran between two patrol cars where Kerrick was standing with gun drawn.

Harris claimed that Kerrick, who was back pedaling, fired the first volley, then fell into a ditch. He said Ferrell, injured, fell at Kerrick’s feet. Kerrick, he said, fired six more shots. Ferrell’s body moves, and Kerrick fired again, Harris said.

After the last two shots, Ferrell’s body remained motionless.

“Neither officer on the scene, while Jon is lying face down in a pool of blood, attempts to render any first aid,” Harris said.

Instead, they handcuffed him.

“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, “ Harris said. “Who polices the police when they do wrong?Harris looked at the jurors and said simply: “You.”

Testimony begins at Kerrick trial

Opening arguments and testimony begin in the manslaughter trial of Randall Kerrick. Pool video via WBTV

9:30 a.m.: Proceedings are officially underway

The judge has been seated and the courtroom is full. About two dozen people are lining benches outside waiting for people to leave.

In the prosecution’s opening statement, the state’s attorneys described the scene of the shooting as “well-lit” and said the officers had a clear view that Ferrell was unarmed.

9 a.m.: Activists continue monitoring the trial

The activists who have been monitoring the courtroom since jury selection began two weeks ago started gathering around 8:30.

Marcelle Vielot, a 25-year-old young adult organizer for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg NAACP chapter, said jury selection heightened distrust in the African-American community because the panel doesn’t represent the full community. The jury – including the four alternates – has two people who are Latino, three African-American and 11 white.

“What it tells me is that a jury of Kerrick’s peers does not consist of the rest of us in the community,” Vielot said. “My Charlotte doesn’t necessarily look that white.”

She and others said they’ll be present throughout what’s expected to be a lengthy trial to support the Ferrell family and provide reports their community trusts.

“It shows the Charlotte community that people care,” said Gloria Merriweather, 23.

“This is an opportunity for us to go back into our community and educate,” said Jeremiah Chapman, an NAACP volunteer. “It’s incredibly important to keep everyone’s emotions in check as well as to show support.”

Ten people gathered at Marshall Park for a short rally organized by John Barnett of True Healing Under God, or THUG.

Protesters march outside Kerrick trial

Protesters pray before marching to courthouse. Video By Todd Sumlin

tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com

Barnett said everyone is eager to hear arguments and testimony. “We have been waiting for this day for almost two years,” he said.

Others who came to support Ferrell’s family skipped the rally to get seats in the courtroom.

Activists march to Kerrick trial

Activists march to the Mecklenburg County Courthouse for the start of the Randall Kerrick trial. Kerrick faces manslaughter charges in the shooting of Jonathan Ferrell. Video by Todd Sumlin

What to expect Monday

The doors to courtoom 5370 at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse are expected to open at 9:15 a.m. The room has 150 seats, available on a first-come, first-served basis. Some seats are reserved for family.

Court is scheduled to convene at 9:30 a.m., followed soon after by opening statements from the defense and prosecution. After the opening statements, the prosecution will call its first witness.

Reporting from the courthouse: Michael Gordon, Elizabeth Leland, Hayley Fowler, Langston Taylor and Ann Doss Helms.

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