OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma's Court of Criminal Appeals on Thursday upheld the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a pharmacist who claimed he acted in self-defense when he fatally shot a would-be robber inside a drug store in 2009.
The panel ruled unanimously against Jerome Ersland, 61, who claimed he was protecting two co-workers during the May 19, 2009, robbery attempt at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy.
Separately, the judges reversed the murder conviction and life sentence of a man prosecutors allege helped plan the robbery but affirmed the conviction of a co-defendant.
Oklahoma County prosecutors said Ersland was justified when he shot Antwun Parker, 16, in the head, knocking him unconscious, before chasing a second teen, then-14-year-old Jevontai Ingram, out of the pharmacy. But they said he went too far when he returned to the pharmacy, grabbed a second gun and fired five more bullets into Parker's abdomen — wounds that the Medical Examiner's Office said killed the teenager.
The appeals court agreed in a 38-page decision that noted the victim was unconscious and unarmed and did not pose a threat to Ersland or anyone else in the pharmacy when he was shot repeatedly in the torso.
The shooting attracted nationwide attention after Oklahoma County prosecutors released a video recording of the attempted robbery and shooting taken by a security camera inside the pharmacy. Ersland's conviction prompted supporters to launch a petition drive expressing outrage over the verdict and urging Gov. Mary Fallin and others to "please help us right this wrong."
The appeals court said the security video and other evidence indicated Ersland intended to kill the teen.
In order to shoot Parker, Ersland stepped across his body, turned his back, went behind the pharmacy counter, put down his empty revolver, opened a drawer, took out another gun, walked to where the victim was lying, stood over him and fired five shots "close together and in rapid succession," the decision written by Vice Presiding Judge Clancy Smith of Tulsa said.
In a concurring opinion, Judge Gary Lumpkin of Madill wrote that the record of Ersland's 2011 trial makes it clear he "was not convicted on the basis of the first gunshot, which was within his right of self-defense, but on the last five shots into (Parker's) body."
The court also rejected Ersland's request for an evidentiary hearing on a variety of appellate issues, including claims that his case was mishandled and his trial attorney, Irven Box, never discussed the possibility of a negotiated plea. The decision Thursday noted that even Ersland admitted District Attorney David Prater never made a formal plea offer.
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Box said he had not seen the decision but was not surprised by it.
"I would have liked to have seen a different outcome," Box said.
Neither Prater nor Ersland's appellate attorney, Doug Friesen, returned telephone calls seeking comment.
In separate rulings, the appeals court voted 3-2 to reverse the first-degree murder conviction and life sentence of a man accused of helping to plan the pharmacy robbery, Emanuel D. "E man" Mitchell, 35. The court ruled Mitchell was denied the right to represent himself at his trial. The court unanimously affirmed the murder conviction and life sentence of co-defendant Anthony D. "Black" Morrison, 47.
Mitchell and Morrison were charged under Oklahoma's felony murder law that allows prosecutors to file a first-degree murder charge if an accomplice dies during a crime. They were convicted on murder and other charges.
The ruling in Mitchell's case send it back to district court for a new trial "in which Mitchell may be allowed to exercise the right of self-representation."
Near the end of his trial, Mitchell leaped from a chair at the defense table and struck Prater in the face after Prater asked jurors to return life sentences against Mitchell and Morrison. Prater and Mitchell struggled on the ground until Mitchell was subdued by sheriff's deputies and led from the courtroom.