Kerrick defense wants same conclusion from 2nd grand jury

Published: Jul. 10, 2015 at 6:37 PM EDT
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Randall Kerrick
Randall Kerrick
Jonathan Ferrell
Jonathan Ferrell

Officer Randall Kerrick and his defense team are not happy with the North Carolina Attorney General's Office's decision to resubmit the charge of voluntary manslaughter to a second grand jury after it was denied once, according to the Kerrick's attorney.

Prosecutors from Attorney General Roy Cooper's office say they sought the first indictment of voluntary manslaughter based on an investigation conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation as well as a separate investigation conducted by the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Investigators told WBTV that Officer Kerrick fired his weapon 12 times and struck Ferrell 10 times, resulting in his death.

On Tuesday, a Grand Jury asked the District Attorney for a lesser charge than voluntary manslaughter.

"We the Grand Jury respectfully request that the district attorney submit a bill of indictment to a lesser-included or related offense," the court papers stated.

The Attorney General's Office said it planned to resubmit the charges before the full Grand Jury. Officer Kerrick's attorney said Friday that Kerrick and his family were unhappy with that decision.

"To say that he and his defense team are disappointed in the Attorney General's decision to resubmit the charge of voluntary manslaughter to a second grand jury is an understatement," a release from Kerrick's attorney stated. "The citizens of Mecklenburg County by and through its grand jury have spoken.  We pray that if this case is reheard by a second Grand Jury, the same conclusion will be reached-that there is no probable cause to sustain an indictment for voluntary manslaughter against Officer Kerrick."

The Mecklenburg County Grand Jury is made up of 18 jurors. Court officials say on Tuesday, 14 members of the jury were in the session. According to North Carolina law, at least 12-members of the grand jury must agree with a decision for it to pass.

"In the interest of justice, we will resubmit this case to the grand jury scheduled to meet Monday, January 27 to seek an indictment for voluntary manslaughter, the most appropriate charge given the facts in the case," Attorney General Roy Cooper stated on Wednesday afternoon.

Ferrell's family said in a statement on Wednesday evening that they are "skeptical" now.

"While we are pleased that the Attorney General is going to resubmit the charges against Randall Kerrick to a new Grand Jury on Monday, we are skeptical given their inability to secure an indictment yesterday," the statement reads. "Jonathan Ferrell was a quality human being who worked hard and cared for those around him. He deserved better."

The family says no matter what the Grand Jury decides, they will ensure his family "realizes justice for Jonathan and all Americans."

Ferrell's family released the following statement on Thursday afternoon.

"We are appreciative of the decision by Attorney General Roy Cooper to return to the Grand Jury on Monday to seek an indictment on the original charge of voluntary manslaughter.

We are also appreciative of those in the Charlotte community who are supporting the cause of justice in Jonathan's case.

We are convinced that the evidence in this case warrants an indictment for voluntary manslaughter and not for some lesser offense.

We urge everyone to allow those in the criminal justice system a full opportunity to meet their professional responsibilities.

The Ferrell family has faith in God that justice will prevail in the end and that Jonathan's death will not have been in vain."

The decision by the grand jury to not indict Officer Kerrick had many people scratching their heads.

It's a process that typically rubber stamps an arrest. But because it's behind close doors no one can truly say why the decision was made.

"They won't give you the list of who the grand jury members are. It's a secret process. And if the foreman of this grand jury had any conversation with you at all she could be subjected to contempt of court and thrown in jail for thirty days," said lawyer Brad Smith of law firm Arnold & Smith.

Smith said no one but the grand jury and the two witnesses who were called know exactly what was said Tuesday in the grand jury room.

"No prosecutors, no judges," said Smith, "It is a secret process."

Members of Ferrell's family and the Charlotte community were outraged after the announcement that the indictment had been declined.

"Family is disappointed, shocked, devastated," an attorney who represents Ferrell's family said. "They were looking forward to today as being a day justice can finally start to be delivered to them. Today was a major disappointment."

The head of the Charlotte branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) was more pointed.

"This is one of the most despicable decisions I have ever seen made by human beings," said Charlotte NAACP President Kojo Natambu.

The pastor at Little Rock AME Zion says he was shocked by the decision.

"When I heard the news my heart sank because I thought it would be an open and shut case," said Pastor Dwayne Walker.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department declined to comment on the Grand Jury's decision.

A police spokesman confirmed that Officer Kerrick's status will stay the same, suspended without pay. The Grand Jury's decision does not impact his status with the department.

Charles Keller, the community access and outreach administrator of the Mecklenburg County Courthouse, explained we can not find out who was in the room that decided not to indict Officer Kerrick. And whether the grand jury saw the dash cam video, he said typically the only evidence heard by the grand jury is testimony.

Keller also said two grand jury panels are selected to sit for three to six months. This Monday, there will be different people sitting in these chairs.

"We alternate. Next Monday will be a different set of grand jurors. The following Monday this grand jury will meet again," said Keller.

Smith said a Grand Jury choosing not to indict is extremely rare. He said the grand jury is not deciding guilt or innocence only probable cause.

"Did a crime probably occur? Did the defendant probably commit the offense? That's sort of the cliff notes version of what probable cause is," said Smith.

Smith said even though one grand jury asks for a lesser-included or related offense the attorney general can resubmit the same charge. There is no double jeopardy.

There is more than confusion many people in Charlotte are anger over this decision.

"Our hearts are sadden and confused by the Grand juries[sic] refusal to indict," said community activist John C. Barnett. "Rest assure that we will rally, we will march and we will be heard! Charlotte must understand that Black life matters!"

"This grand jury asked for a lesser included offense and it is completely within their authority to do that," said Professor Mindy Sanchez of the Charlotte School of Law, "And the office, the prosecution's office can just go back in with lesser included offense. Because it's a high profile case they want to try to get that voluntary manslaughter indictment. Which is why they are going to resubmit it to a new grand jury and the same charge."

Sanchez works at the Charlotte School of Law and was a prosecutor in New York for seven years. She said a Grand Jury coming back saying no-true bill is rare. But things are different when you look at officer-involved shootings.

"If you look at police shootings, statistically in New York it's not uncommon for there to be a no-true bill because police officers they have the legal authority to use force when necessary," said Sanchez.

The list of cases Kerrick's Grand Jury saw on Tuesday included felonies, everything from drug offenses to breaking and entering. There were 277 cases, the Grand Jury indicted 276.

"Typically, it's rare because the threshold that has to be met by a grand jury is very low," said Sanchez.

In 2013, thousands of cases were brought in front of Grand Juries at the Mecklenburg County Courthouse. There were two others times this past year when a Grand Jury sent out a no-true bill or no indictment, once in April and another time in May. The specifics of those cases were not available. But it's likely those cases were resubmitted.

It's not known what the new Grand Jury for the Kerrick case will decide on Monday, but those gathered Thursday at Next Level Ministries plan to get together Monday night for a reaction rally.

Last week, Ferrell's family filed a lawsuit saying the 23-year-old as unarmed when he was killed.

During the incident, Ferrell reportedly pounded on the door of a home for help after wrecking his car. But the woman in the home thought he was a robber and called 911.

Three officers responded to the call, but Kerrick was the only one who fired his gun.

The lawsuit questions the hiring and training of police officers and says Kerrick was negligent in his use of excessive force.

Criminal attorney Christopher Chestnut called the lawsuit part of the family's path to justice and said they have repeatedly been denied information on Kerrick's personnel file.

He said the goal is to prevent a death like Ferrell's from happening again.

Kerrick's attorney, George Laughrun spoke to the media after viewing the dash cam video of the night Ferrell was shot. The video has not been made public.

"The officers gave several verbal commands to 'get on the ground, get on the ground', at least three commands," he said. "He continued approaching the officers, advancing toward them."

Laughrun said the video shows Ferrell never put his hands up.

"His hands were not up in the air," he recalled. "At one time, one of his hands was behind his back."

During a press conference on Tuesday evening, Kerrick's attorney said the Charlotte officer responded to resistance he felt.

The state released the autopsy and toxicology reports of Jonathan Akeen Pierre Ferrell in late November.

The autopsy report says Ferrell died as a result of multiple gunshot wounds of the chest. The toxicology report shows Ferrell had caffeine, nicotine and ethanol is his system.

Thursday night a community rally was held in support of Jonathan Ferrell, the unarmed man shot and killed by a Charlotte Mecklenburg Police officer.

The rally was held at Next Level Ministries on Orr Road in Northeast Charlotte. Community members as well as local activists came together to make plans to take action.

The event was planned before Tuesday's decision by a Mecklenburg County Grand Jury not to indict Charlotte Mecklenburg Police Department Officer Randall Kerrick on charges of voluntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Ferrell.

But activist say that decision only underscores the need for the community to take a stand.

"We can't sit home anymore," said Rev. Kojo Nantambu, President of the Charlotte chapter of the NAACP. "We can't stand alone anymore."

He implored the crowd to take action saying that's they only way to get justice for Ferrell and his family.

"Please don't come up to me anymore and say, 'I got your back'," he said. "I don't want you behind I want you with me."

Ruth Marshall, of Charlotte, was in the crowd and agreed. She said the reason she just had to be at this rally is simple.

"Justice for a young innocent, unarmed, black male," she pointed out. "It's not fair -- 10 bullets. That's just not fair. Enough is a enough. We have to take a stand somewhere."

That somewhere was inside the church's small sanctuary. The time, they said, is now.

"Everybody should be down their chanting, raising their voices for justice and demanding it," said Rev. Nantambu.

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