A pharmacist convicted of murder has been faking a broken back, an examination of jail X-rays found.
Jerome Jay Ersland, 59, of Chickasha, has worn a back brace for years and has been prescribed powerful medication for pain. He told the police and news media he suffers from an inoperable back injury.
X-rays of his back were taken after he was incarcerated at Oklahoma County jail May 26. A radiologist who examined the X-rays reported none of his vertebrae were fractured, sources told The Oklahoman.
The doctor concluded Ersland has modest osteoarthritis of the spine, The Oklahoman learned. That is a condition men about his age often endure.
Also, medical workers at the jail reported seeing Ersland walking a hall there, at times, without his back brace. A nurse reported seeing Ersland, while without his brace, pick something up off the floor without problem.
A jury convicted Ersland on May 26 of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a robber inside a south Oklahoma City drugstore two years ago. Jurors chose a life term as punishment. Ersland's formal sentencing is Monday.
Prosecutors contended at trial that he was in the wrong when he shot an unarmed, unconscious robber five more times after knocking the robber to the floor with a shot to the head. Jurors said afterward they agreed the prosecution evidence proved the robber, Antwun Parker, 16, was not moving on the floor.
Ersland has said he was defending himself and two female co-workers from the robber who was still a threat. He has claimed the robber was getting back up. A second robber, who did have a gun, had fled.
Sheriff John Whetsel, who operates the jail, and District Attorney David Prater declined to comment on the examination of Ersland's back. Lead defense attorney Irven Box said, “I know he's seen other medical experts other than jail medical people.”
At Monday's formal sentencing, defense attorneys may ask District Judge Ray Elliott to suspend part or all of the pharmacist's life term. The judge is not expected to cut any time off.
The medical evidence about Ersland's back is the latest instance in the highly publicized case where the pharmacist has been caught in an apparent lie.
His first account to police about the shooting was contradicted by recordings from drugstore security cameras. He later changed his account and said he had been confused by stress and adrenaline.
Also, his claim to police of killing before, in combat in Iraq during the first Gulf War, was contradicted by his military records. Those records show Ersland was the pharmacy chief at the military hospital at Altus Air Force Base in southwestern Oklahoma when allied forces fought in Iraq in 1991.
He told police detectives his back was injured during an artillery attack in Iraq. He said one of his vertebrae got blasted into thirds. “The three pieces of that one vertebra are going around by my heart and my lungs and my spinal cord, and they can't operate,” he said on the night of the shooting.
Ersland continued to claim he had a broken back even after prosecutors got the records showing he was not in an artillery blast in the Gulf War. In a note from jail in May, he complained to The Oklahoman about having to sleep on a thin jail mattress “although I have a broken inoperable T-5 back.”
In a June phone interview from jail, he told KWTV-9: “I've been suffering immensely with my broken back.”
Petition for pardon
The pharmacist's supporters have collected signatures on petitions that state “our Justice System has let us down … on the Jerome Ersland case.” Supporters hope Gov. Mary Fallin will someday pardon Ersland.
On Thursday, the petition-drive organizer, Karen D. Monahan, and the pharmacist's oldest son, Jeff Ersland, turned over the first batch of petitions at the Capitol to an attorney for the governor.
Monahan, 56, is a friend who accompanied Ersland to his pretrial hearings and to his trial. Records discovered by The Oklahoman on Friday show she also is on probation for drug and weapon offenses.
Police in January 2006 reported finding marijuana, methamphetamine, guns, digital scales, a bulletproof vest and cash in a search of her and her boyfriend's Oklahoma City home. She pleaded guilty to felony counts in 2007.
She said Friday the drugs were not hers. She said: “My boyfriend told the police that the firearms were his. He told them as soon as they come in that I had nothing to do with anything.” She said she only pleaded guilty because she ran out of money to fight the case.
“I'm not a bad person. And I'm not. I'm a real good person,” Monahan said Friday.