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Mistrial declared in police officer's manslaughter trial for shooting unarmed black man

Mistrial declared in police officer's manslaughter trial for shooting unarmed black man
Protesters lie in the middle of Fourth Street to protest the mistrial declared in the case of Randall Kerrick, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer accused of killing an unarmed man, Jonathan Ferrell, two years ago. (Jeff Siner / TNS)

A North Carolina judge declared a mistrial Friday after a jury deadlocked in the case of a white police officer charged with voluntary manslaughter in the death of an unarmed black man.

Judge Robert C. Ervin in Charlotte declared the mistrial after four days of deliberations.

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Ervin brought the racially diverse jury back into the Mecklenburg County courtroom around 4:10 p.m. The foreman said that they continued to be deadlocked 8 to 4 and that he saw no possibility of reaching a verdict.

"Honestly, we have exhausted every possibility," the foreman said.

Defense attorney George Laughrun had called for the mistrial because jurors had met for 19 hours and were at an impasse. Prosecutors had asked Ervin to urge the jury to continue its deliberations.

Outside the courthouse, a handful of protesters lay down in the middle of the street to protest the decision. Several shouted "No justice, no peace" at members of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Officer Randall Kerrick's family as they left the courthouse. They were still in the street an hour later.

Kerrick had faced up to 11 years in prison.

Prosecutor Adren Harris said officials would review the case and consider whether to retry it.

Laughrun had no comment on the mistrial as he left the courtroom. Kerrick also said nothing as he exited, carrying a cardboard box in his left arm, with his wife following him.

Jurors made no comments to reporters as they left.

Prosecutors said nonlethal force should have been used on Jonathan Ferrell, a former Florida A&M football player, in September 2013. Two officers with Kerrick didn't fire their guns.

But Kerrick's attorneys said the officer feared for his life when he shot and killed Ferrell while responding to a breaking-and-entering call.

The case was one of several in recent years that have raised questions about police use of deadly force against black men.

Police say Ferrell wrecked his car on the morning of Sept. 14, 2013, went to a nearby house and banged on the door, apparently for help. The resident called police, and three officers responded. Investigators say one used his Taser without apparent effect on Ferrell before Kerrick fired 12 shots, 10 of which hit him.

Kerrick testified that he repeatedly fired because Ferrell kept charging at him and he didn't think his weapon was even working.

Holding back tears and in a quavering voice, Kerrick re-created the events, at one point yelling "Stop!" and "Get on the ground!" in a nearly packed courtroom.

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Police training expert Dave Cloutier testified that Kerrick's decision to shoot Ferrell was consistent with the department's training.

However, Police Capt. Mike Campagna testified that the shooting violated department policy. He said nonlethal force should have been used to subdue Ferrell.

Kerrick's attorneys contended that Kerrick opened fire because he feared Ferrell was going to attack him and take his gun.

Officer Adam Neal, who was also at the shooting scene, testified that he never considered pulling a weapon that night and instead viewed the situation as one that would require physical force to restrain the subject.

Defense attorneys targeted Ferrell's condition at the time of the shooting, pointing to the fact that he had smoked marijuana and drunk alcohol before the wreck that led to the deadly confrontation.

The Ferrell family has already settled a lawsuit with the city of Charlotte, receiving $2.25 million.

Jeff Welty, an associate professor of law and government at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, said the fact that the first of two grand juries declined to indict Kerrick indicates why a trial — with a higher standard of proof required — would be hard to decide.

"You could at least view that as a suggestion that getting a conviction beyond a reasonable doubt was going to be a struggle," he said. "Maybe that suggests that the case isn't going to be an easy one."

Bowling Green State University criminologist Philip Stinson, who is a former police officer, said he would have expected a mistrial or an acquittal.

"In my research, only a little over 20% of the cases where an officer is charged with murder or manslaughter resulting from an on-duty shooting results in a conviction."

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