A trial means hearing all the evidence in Charlotte officer’s shooting of unarmed man

January 31, 2014 

The following editorial appeared in the Charlotte Observer:

The public doesn’t know precisely what happened the September night Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Randall Kerrick fired 12 shots at Jonathan Ferrell, hitting him 10 times. We don’t know what a video from the scene shows. We don’t know whether Ferrell was concealing his hands. We don’t know whether Kerrick panicked or whether he somehow had reason to fear for his life. We don’t know what the other two officers who were there say.

Here’s what we do know:

Ferrell, 24, was unarmed. He was not drunk or on drugs. He broke no law.

And he is dead.

This state of affairs begs for both sides to have their say – their full say, their public say – in a court of law. Ferrell’s family, which has lost a son, a brother, a fiance, deserves a full hearing into this tragedy. And Officer Kerrick, under our justice system, deserves the chance to be exonerated by a complete airing of all the facts.

Let the evidence be heard. If it shows Kerrick is guilty of voluntary manslaughter, as Police Chief Rodney Monroe and prosecutors contend, then the lack of a trial would have been a travesty. If the evidence shows Kerrick not guilty of all charges, a trial allows him to resume his life with his name cleared, rather than endure such a shadow of suspicion hanging over him forever.

This is why the public and Ferrell’s family and even arguably Kerrick should be grateful that a grand jury voted 14-4 to indict the officer. Now the truth can be known.

Nearly a week earlier a different grand jury, with only 14 of 18 members present, did not have the 12 necessary votes to indict and asked prosecutors to return with a lesser charge. That was extremely unusual – the same grand jury returned “true bills” on 276 other cases that day. The attorney general’s office instead responded with an unusual step of its own: taking the evidence to a second grand jury.

Some question whether this constitutes double jeopardy, but Superior Court Judge Bob Bell ruled there was no legal basis to prevent it. Especially in a case with such immense importance to the community, the attorney general’s effort was appropriate. Fourteen grand jury members also suggested it was the right move by agreeing that there’s enough evidence for a trial.

Some observers have pointed to the fact that Kerrick was forced to make an instant judgment in what might have been a terrifying situation. That is true, but it does not absolve him of making the wrong judgment, if he did. Police have an incredibly difficult job and deserve our deep thanks and respect. That they almost always act professionally under intense circumstances speaks well to their training and their character. It does not, however, mean they can do no wrong, and when they do, they must be held accountable.

This case is a horrible tragedy regardless of the judicial outcome. Given that an unarmed man is dead, the lack of a trial would have undercut public confidence in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, its officers and the justice system. Indeed, the first grand jury’s decision had already done so. Now, both sides have a chance to let the evidence speak for itself.

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