Trial for Charlotte officer involved in deadly shooting opened to packed courtroom
CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - A crowded courtroom heard opening statements and the first several witnesses in the trial against Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police officer Randall "Wes" Kerrick, who officials say shot an unarmed man ten times.
Jonathan Ferrell, 24, died on September 14, 2013 after an encounter with police in the Bradfield Farms neighborhood in east Mecklenburg.
Opening statements began with Special Deputy Attorney General Adran Harris explaining how Ferrell wrecked his car on an unfamiliar road after dropping off a friend overnight. He banged on the door of a nearby neighbor, who believed Ferrell was a burglar and called 911.
Harris said Ferrell began "banging on the door to attract attention" and was seeking help. He said when officers arrived and shone a red stun gun beam on Ferrell, he became scared and decided to run. "At that point, Jonathan is in fear of his life, of being shot," said Harris.
Harris said Kerrick fired a series of four shots ten feet away. He said Ferrell fell at the feet of Kerrick and started crawling when Kerrick fired six more shots. Ferrell moved more, and Kerrick fired the final two.
"Who polices the police when they do wrong?" Harris asked the jury. He answered, "You do."
Defense attorney Michael Greene said DNA evidence will show there was a struggle for Kerrick's gun, as Ferrell "climbed" up the officer after they fell.
Greene said Kerrick and the officers were responding to a "priority one" break-in call and had a suspect match when they saw Ferrell. He said testimony will show the other officers believed Ferrell was acting erratically and said, "Shoot me, shoot me," when he saw police.
He said Ferrell made bad choices and forced Kerrick to make the ultimate choice to protect himself and others.
The state's first witnesses supported two images of Jonathan Ferrell. His sister, fiance, friends from work at Best Buy and the waitress who served him at Hickory Tavern before he was killed all describe him as quiet and laid back. But the woman who called 911 described a different man at her door.
"Please help, please help," could be heard on the recording from Sarah McCartney's 911 call in September 2013.
McCartney explained on the stand that while she was calling 911 for help, Jonathan Ferrell was in the background shouting, "shut it off" about her alarm. This was after she says he banged on her door. McCartney described the suspect she saw when she opened the door quickly was a large, 200-plus pounds, black man, with a green shirt. She said he looked angry.
The defense told the jury in opening statements that Ferrell did not once ask for help or say he was in a car accident when he saw police officers. McCartney also said he never asked her for help when he came to her door. The jury heard the whole 911 call, including the part when police arrived, and read along with a transcript of the call.
McCartney was the state's witness, but her testimony helped the defense explain what dispatcher's told Officer Kerrick about Ferrell's description.
A work friend of Ferrell's, who lives in the same neighborhood as McCartney, said Ferrell dropped him off at his house after they hung out and smoked marijuana.
"Sitting in there in my garage, I'd inhale it a couple of times, give it to him. He inhaled it a couple of times, pass it back to me," Max Funderburke said.
Ferrell's fiance, Cache Heidel, says Ferrell never kept marijuana in their home.
"We actually did it together twice. Once in the spring break the sophomore year at college and again summer of my junior year," Heidel said.
Heidel said she last spoke with Ferrell when they got in an argument about his future before she went to work Friday morning.
"I remember leaving that day angry with him, and I didn't say 'I love you' or didn't say 'bye.' And he texted me to tell me have a good day," Heidel said.
She didn't know about Ferrell's plans to go out after work and didn't know about his car accident and death until Saturday when officers came to her door. She was interviewed about their relationship and his behavior during a confrontation.
"I probably would have said yes. He would have backed down," Heidel said.
The defense wanted to show Ferrell was aggressive, but his fiance stated otherwise.
Jonathan Ferrell's sister, Joy Dent, who works as a corrections officer in Florida, was another witness. She established what her brother looked like before he died.
"It's my brother, Jonathan Ferrell," Joy Dent said about the first piece of state evidence - a photo of Jonathan Ferrell.
Ferrell's friends from work took the stand after his fiance and explained the night before he died they all went to Hickory Tavern for some drinks. The jurors heard from three friends about how much Ferrell drank. The waitress said his tab showed two beers.
Based on the witnesses in court, Ferrell's last friendly interaction was a text from his friend, who thanked him for the ride home after a night hanging out.
"After he left my house, like I said, I sent him a message that said 'good look on the ride, l-o-o-k.' I'm not sure what took place after that," Funderburke said.
The last witness of the day was John Russell Freeze, a firefighter with medical training who responded to the call about an officer-involved shooting. He said on the way to the call he thought the call meant an officer was shot.
Freeze testified that Ferrell had no pulse by the time he arrived to treat him. He said while treating Kerrick, he identified a cut inside and a cut outside of his mouth. Freeze testified Kerrick said "I been hit."
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