As 16-year-old Antwun “Speedy” Parker lay motionless after a bungled robbery attempt, pharmacist Jerome Ersland, 57, pumped five slugs from a Kel-Tec .380 into his chest, killing him, alleges Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater.
There are plenty who argue against Prater’s assessment. Calls poured in against the DA’s decision after Prater announced Ersland faces a charge of first-degree murder. Online pundits have scored the Internet with vitriol for Prater’s decision.
Prater said crime scene evidence ” beyond the grayscale black-and-white surveillance video seen nationwide ” will prove his case beyond a reasonable doubt. Based on that evidence, Prater said, he rejects any idea that the boy struggled or seemed to be going for a weapon.
“That’s a problem,” Prater said. “It’s about imminent threat.”
“Imminent threat,” or “imminent danger” in Oklahoma, as well as in the laws of other states, is the idea that one can use deadly force against an individual who is attacking with some form of deadly force, such as a knife, club, gun or other weapon.
Such an attack must be under way at the moment the defensive force is used, Prater said. The brandishing of a weapon by an attacker, even reaching for what the defender reasonably believes to be a gun in the pocket, means that the attacker presents a deadly threat against the defender.
Parker lay sprawled out on the floor of south side’s Reliable Discount Pharmacy, knocked unconscious by a shot to the head, Prater said. According to the medical examiner’s office, the wound to Parker’s head was a glancing blow from which the high school freshman would have recovered.
“I am a supporter of the Second Amendment right to bear arms. I am a supporter of the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law, of the ‘Make My Day’ law. But in those ” inherently and explicitly ” is the justification to use deadly force when imminent threat of great bodily harm or death to you is present,” Prater said. “I think our legislators believe that human life has value. If a person is not trying to cause you great bodily harm or death, human life should not be taken. I think that’s why they place that limitation there. Robbery doesn’t carry the death penalty.”
Where the law meets reality, however, is a shadowy, human place, said Ersland’s defense attorney, Irven Box. Like Ersland, Box said, he has also survived a shootout.
RUMORS OF SECOND VIDEO
Box has a number of experiences in common with both Prater and Ersland. Like Prater, Box said, he’s a former street cop, and knows that law is often the hammer-blow of force confronting human misstep.
“As a police officer, I’ve been in shootouts,” Box said. “In one case in particular, they asked me, ‘How many shots did you fire?’ I swore I’d fired one. In my time, we didn’t carry Glocks with 14 rounds, we carried Smith & Wessons with six. I checked my weapon, and lo and behold, I’d fired six rounds.”
That issue, Ersland’s state of mind, is the key to the case, Box said.
“There is no way, when that adrenaline is flowing through “¦ when that trauma starts, and you get hit with somebody putting a gun right in your face “¦ eye level, straight at the face. “¦ When you hit that, what do you do?” Box said. “You go into this mode where everything is just slow motion. And this (Ersland’s shooting) was only 46 seconds.”
Box said he’s relying on a jury agreeing that Ersland was still defending himself, beyond the most damning evidence presented in the video. Both Box and Prater have said they wish to keep the trial in Oklahoma County. And both have denied racial motivation behind the crime.
In the video, the two boys, Antwun Parker and one whom police allege to be Jevontia Ingram, 14, enter the Reliable Discount Pharmacy. Parker appears to be carrying a board that he jams the door open with, apparently to keep an electronic lock from engaging, Box said. The youth with the gun aims it across the counter. Two women behind the counter shrink away as Parker steps around to the right of the gunman, tugging a ski mask over his face.
In the silent gray twilight of the video, Ersland can be seen pointing and firing a gun at the two. Parker collapses backward, below the camera’s gaze. The figure with the gun bolts from the store, pursued by Ersland, who is carrying the Taurus “Judge” revolver, which fires a .45-caliber “cowboy” round.
Seconds later, Ersland returns, walks past the corner in which Parker was seen to collapse, only glancing slightly into it, goes back behind the counter, where he is seen opening a drawer and taking something out. It’s the second gun. He returns, and appears to very calmly, very deliberately, lean down and fire the gun into the area off-camera where Parker’s body was found.
Initially, Ersland declined an interview request under the advice of Box. Back at work, he later told Oklahoma Gazette he receives death threats almost nightly, both at home and at work. One caller is a woman, he said. The other is a man who claims to “control the south side,” Ersland said:
“He says, ‘What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see our markers? We’re going to have to get rid of you because we can’t have people like you in our area.'”
Ersland, who claims he is a disabled veteran of the Persian Gulf War, then urged others in the south metro to take precautions. The charged pharmacist, out on $100,000 bail, is barred from access to guns by order of District Judge Tammy Bass-LeSure., who has reportedly also received death threats.
“I want to warn people that they need to protect themselves,” Ersland told the Gazette.
Ersland previously told Fox News television pundit Bill O’Reilly that he saw Parker moving, that he thought the boy was talking and turning.
There are rumors of a second video, Box said, but even so, Box claims the video doesn’t change the basic issue.
“It would be certainly helpful to my client if there was another video showing him moving,” Box admitted. “But if he’s not “¦ I just don’t think it’s the death knell to my client. … The most relevant thing to the jury is what fear my client went through. Can you look at someone lying on the ground and turn that switch off, that adrenaline flowing through?”
GOOD OR BAD SHOOTING?
Attorney Doug Friesen has a unique perspective on the case. His prominent law practice specializes in self-defense cases. He teaches self-defense law to concealed carry classes.
Furthermore, Friesen said, he thinks he remembers Ersland.
“I think he was in one of my classes,” Friesen said.
Like most, Friesen has seen the released video, and said it’s not conclusive either way. The alleged coup de grâce against Parker by Ersland is off-camera.
“You can look at this, and we don’t know what is going on,” Friesen said.
Because of that issue, Friesen said he has to hedge his bets with different scenarios.
“If the kid is lying there, splayed out, unconscious, can’t move, has no weapons of any kind, “¦ doesn’t have his hands near his pants, and is just laying there “¦ and the guy comes up and pumps him full of lead, that’s a bad shooting,” Friesen said.
“On the other hand, you got two guys coming in with at least one gun, and we don’t know how many guns “¦ and this kid starts to move, even if he is unconscious, and if it looks like his hand is moving to his pants “¦ I think it’s a reasonable conclusion that your life is in jeopardy at that point to respond to it. Then it’s a good shooting.”
There is a wild card, however, Friesen said. He said his experience in successfully defending numerous self-defense cases should give anyone pause in judging Ersland. The act of shooting creates trauma in the shooter.
“I have represented a bunch of cops in shootings,” Friesen said. “I can guarantee you that at the time he came back in and did those other shots, he absolutely wasn’t thinking. From the moment he pulled that trigger the first time, he went into shock, and he will have limited recollection of what happened. There wasn’t any conscious thought going through his head.”
DRAWING THE LINE
For his part, Prater remains resolute that Ersland did know what he was doing, that his act was deliberate and methodical. It was murder, Prater alleges. “I’m the one who filed the charge so my butt’s on the line,” the district attorney reportedly told the district judge regarding the murder charge. Subsequently, Prater also charged 14-year-old Ingram, 31-year-old Emanuel Dewayne Mitchell and 43-year-old Anthony Devale Morrison in connection with Parker’s murder.
“When I say I absolutely support your right to defend yourself, I absolutely support your right to defend yourself. But when imminent threat is gone, any deadly force that is used at that point is an offensive act, not defensive, offense,” Prater said. “The line is drawn right there.”
Prater turned and looked at the gray video playing on the laptop sitting on the conference table. Again, the footage shows Parker crumple out of the picture as that .45 slug dug a shallow divot into the boy’s skull but did not kill him.
Ersland fired one shot justly, Prater said. Parker was part of a team pointing a gun at him. The pharmacist fired first during a moment of imminent threat, but the self-defense bullet only struck a glancing blow. A more substantial hit, and the youth could have died instantly.
“The ironic thing is, an inch, two inches over, and Ersland’s a hero,” Prater said. “Ben Fenwick