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Trial Begins in the 2013 Police Killing of Black Man Who Sought Help After Car Accident in North Carolina

Jonathan Ferrell had wrecked his car and knocked on a door at a nearby house at 2:30am. The owner of the home called police, and one of the responding officers shot Ferrell 10 times.

by Olivia Becker
Aug 3 2015, 4:15pm

(Davie Hinshaw/The Charlotte Observer via AP, Pool)

Opening statements have begun today in the trial of a Charlotte, North Carolina police officer who fatally shot an unarmed black man ten times in September, 2013.

A year before protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri over the police killing of Michael Brown, white police officer Randall Kerrick shot 24-year-old Jonathan Ferrell. Kerrick has been charged with voluntary manslaughter and, if convicted, faces up to eleven years in prison, according to the Associated Press. Prosecutors say that Kerrick had violated protocol and fired his gun without provocation, reported to the AP. 

Kerrick had responded to a 911 call from a woman in a residential neighborhood in Charlotte, after Ferrell loudly knocked on her door. Ferrell had gotten into a car crash and was presumably looking for help, but the woman thought he was an intruder and called the police.

Kerrick was one of three officers who responded to the woman's call.  Prosecutor Adren Harris told the court Monday that when one of the officers pointed a taser at Ferrell, he feared for his life and ran between police cars, where Kerrick was standing with gun drawn. Kerrick fired twelve bullets, and ten of them struck Ferrell.  Prosecutors said that as Ferrell approached, Kerrick had been backpedaling, but fell into a ditch.  He fired four bullets at Ferrell, who then fell in front of him.  When Ferrell moved, the prosecutor said Kerrick fired six more bullets into Ferrell.  Harris said after Ferrell stopped moving, he was lying face down in his own blood in the ditch.  Officers did not try to roll him over, nor did they attempt to administer first aid.  They did handcuff him, according to an account of Monday's proceedings in the Charlotte Observer

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Kerrick's lawyers, on the other hand, are arguing that he was legitimately in fear for his life. They also contend that Ferrell had been high on marijuana and had taunted Kerrick to shoot him, said the AP. Both sides are in agreement that it was Ferrell who ran toward Kerrick, but contend whether or not Kerrick had reason to use deadly force is up to debate, according to local NBC affiliate.

There is a video of the event taken from the police dash cam, as well as photographs of the crime scene, but neither has been released to the public, according to Time Warner Cable News, Charlotte.

Kerrick's trial comes amidst a national debate about police tactics and race relations in this country. Ferrell was one of the 461 people shot and killed by police in 2013, according to FBI data, analyzed by USA Today.

One of the other officers who was at the scene, Thomas Little, said that he sided with the Kerrick, reported NBC Charlotte. In a statement to police, Little said, "If he had charged me, I would have shot him two times center mass." Lawyers have not decided whether to use Little's testimony in the trial.

In May, the city of Charlotte agreed to pay $2.25 million to Ferrell's family to settle a lawsuit the family brought.  

Follow Olivia Becker on Twitter: @obecker928

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