Update June 3rd 2011: Jerome Ersland unjustly convicted of first-degree murder, petition campaign launched to free him. Updated post HERE.
Update May 29th: Ersland released on $100,000 bail, Antwun Parker's two playmates arrested. Updated post HERE.
Utah is one of the most Second Amendment-friendly states in the Union. If you use lethal force to defend yourself and your property, you are unlikely to be charged with a crime. Utah even sells concealed weapons permits to out-of-state residents.
Oklahoma also has a record of being friendly to the Second Amendment as well. Or at least that's what a pharmacist, Jerome Ersland, thought, until he used lethal force to defend his shop against armed invasion - and found himself charged with murder on May 27th, 2009.
From two news stories in the Daily Oklahoman, dated May 22nd and May 27th, we can construct a reasonable synopsis of the incident. On May 19th, around 5:50 P.M., Jerome Ersland and two co-workers were preparing to close up shop for the day at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy located near SW 59th and Pennsylvania Avenue in Oklahoma City. Because the neighborhood itself is bad and the shop had been robbed two years prior, Ersland was packing heat - a Kel-Tec .380 and a Taurus "Judge". Suddenly, two black thugs wearing ski masks burst in the door demanding cash and drugs, while a third accomplice functioning as the getaway car driver waited outside (Ersland is white, so this ultimately introduced a racial angle to the story).
Ersland's two female co-workers immediately fled to a secure back room. However, Ersland, a disabled veteran of Desert Storm who had just received back surgery six weeks prior, did not have that option. So he pulled out the Kel-Tec and shot one of the robbers, 16-year-old Antwun Parker, in the head. Ersland then pulled out his bigger gun, the Taurus, to go after the other robber, but Parker tried to get up. Fearing for his safety, and not knowing the Parker was actually unarmed, Ersland then pumped five more shots into Parker's chest, which proved fatal. In the interim, the second robber, who was armed, escaped with the getaway driver. The second robber, an unidentified 14-year-old, was caught late on May 28th. Surveillance video captured and aired by KFOR Channel 4 provides some more insight:
As news of the shooting spread throughout the neighborhood, relatives of Antwun Parker, accompanied by a black mob, assembled at the store and staged a verbal confontation. They accused Ersland of racism, and the relatives insisted that Parker was a good kid who "loved to play basketball and draw pictures". One relative even claimed that she "knew" that Parker was "incapable" of committing such a crime. This is symptomatic of the uncomfortable "stop snitching" mentality prevalent throughout much of the black community nationwide, in which many blacks whitewash the misdeeds of their own, although a growing number of influential black leaders are condemning this mentality.
Nonetheless, despite the fact that it looks like a clear-cut case of self-defense, the public was astonished and outraged when, on May 27th, 2009, prosecutor David Prater announced his intent to pursue first degree murder charges against Jerome Ersland. Prater claims that the surveillance video does not match well with Ersland's statements to police. In his case, Prater makes a clear-cut distinction between the first shot to the head of Antwun Parker fired by Ersland, which he says was legitimate self-defense, vs. the five subsequent shots to Parker's chest, which he claims was illegitimate. Prater said Ersland was justified in shooting Parker the first time, but he crossed the line when he continued shooting at the unconscious teen. He further stated that had Ersland's first shot been fatal, there'd be no case against him.
The affidavit of probable cause can be read HERE (loads slowly).
So, according to David Prater, in the heat of battle, Jerome Ersland was supposed to have automatically assumed that, when Antwun Parker struggled to his feet after being shot to the head, that Parker was unarmed and posed no further threat? This is a high standard difficult for even trained SWAT teams and special ops commandos, who constantly train for these situations, to achieve. They even sometimes fail. And yet Ersland, an untrained civilian who last saw action during Desert Storm, was supposed to make a correct assumption in a split second? Perhaps Prater has never faced hostile fire and doesn't understand the emotions involved. He's playing God - and wants to put someone away for not making the "perfect" decision. Furthermore, why is Prater going for first-degree murder, which implies malice aforethought? Does he really believe Ersland committed first-degree murder, or is he merely attempting to induce Ersland to plea to a lesser offense. Of course, this doesn't matter at the moment, since Ersland has publicly state he will fight the charges to the very end.
Jury nullification, anyone?
District Judge Tammy Bass-Lesure has now released Jerome Ersland on $100,000 bail, on condition he has no access to firearms. Ironically, David Prater contested the restriction, claiming it would be open season on the pharmacy when he was working, but the judge insisted on the restriction. His bond was posted by a supporter who he does not know. But public outrage against Prater's intentions continues to pick up steam. An unscientific Daily Oklahoman poll shows that of 4,218 respondents as of this post, 82 percent support Jerome Ersland and do NOT approve of David Prater filing murder charges against him. More support for Ersland is expressed on two separate Free Republic threads, HERE and HERE, as well as on the Hannity forums. Stormfront and the Vanguard News Network Forum are also weighing in. A lot of sub-constituencies who might otherwise have little to do with each other are coming together on this one issue.
Could such a miscarriage of justice happen in Utah? Sadly, yes, and a similar case is the case of D.J. Bell. While no lethal weapon was involved in this case, it was the victim who got charged with a crime. Five thugs broke into D.J. Bell's home on the mistaken notion that he had kidnapped two children (who hadn't been kidnapped and who had been sent back home), trashed the house, and brutally assaulted both Bell and his domestic partner. But against whom did Salt Lake County District Attorney Lohra Miller prefer charges? Not against the five thugs, but against Bell - for kidnapping. This shows that Second Amendment and Castle Doctrine rights are fragile at best - and remain subject to the capricious whims of opportunistic prosecutors.