A judge Monday refused to cut any time off the life term of a pharmacist convicted of murder for fatally shooting a robber.
“It's injustice of a monumental proportion,” Jerome Jay Ersland, 59, said after his formal sentencing.
His lead defense attorney, Irven Box, asked that Ersland be given probation for life. Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott refused, saying he saw no reason to suspend any of the sentence.
“I'm going to appeal,” Ersland told a large throng of news reporters and cameramen as sheriff's deputies led him in chains to a jail elevator.
The judge's decision means Ersland likely will die in prison unless he wins on appeal, the law is changed or a governor grants clemency. Under current law, Ersland will have to serve more than 38 years before he is eligible for parole.
Box called the jury verdict a tragedy. He said the outcome “more than likely” would have been different if jurors could have heard witnesses and testimony disallowed by the judge.
“We really strongly believe that we didn't play on a level playing field,” he said. “We believe that we have a lot … of issues to appeal from.”
A jury in May chose the life term as punishment. Ersland was convicted of first-degree murder for fatally shooting an unarmed robber inside the Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City two years ago.
Prosecutors said the fallen robber, Antwun “Speedy” Parker, 16, was unconscious from a shot to the head when Ersland got a second gun and shot him five more times. Prosecutors at trial called the final shots an execution. Ersland said he was defending himself and two female co-workers. He claimed the masked robber was getting back up.
A second robber, Jevontai Ingram, had fled already. Ingram, then 14, did have a gun.
2 other men sentenced
Also Monday, another judge sentenced the two men who planned the drugstore robbery. Both were convicted in May of first-degree murder for Parker's death.
Anthony D. “Black” Morrison was sentenced to life in prison plus 30 years for his role. Emanuel D. “E Man” Mitchell was sentenced to life in prison plus 45 years for his role. Both have been in prison for robberies before.
Morrison, 45, and Mitchell, 33, sent the two teenagers in to the pharmacy to rob it of drugs and money, according to testimony at their trial. The two are cousins.
District Judge Kenneth Watson refused to show them any leniency. He criticized Morrison for sending “kids” in to do the robbery “rather than step up and be a man and do it yourself.”
Mitchell on Monday continued to deny involvement in the robbery, even though he was caught near a stolen getaway car a few blocks from the pharmacy.
“There is no way I should be forced to live with this wrongful conviction,” he told Watson. “I leave vengeance up to God on this whole situation.”
Ingram, now 16, pleaded guilty in 2010 to first-degree murder. He has been at a juvenile detention facility.
Verdict stirred debate
The outcome of Ersland's trial renewed a public debate over the pharmacist's actions. There was widespread criticism of the jury. District Attorney David Prater on Monday praised jurors for their seriousness, saying they — not the critics — heard all the evidence.
“They said the rule of law … matters,” Prater told Elliott. “No one is above it.”
More than 17,000 people signed petitions calling the Ersland verdict an outrage. The pharmacist's oldest son and his key supporters delivered the petitions to the governor's office last week. Supporters say they hope Gov. Mary Fallin someday will pardon Ersland or commute his sentence.
Few supporters showed up Monday for his sentencing. Instead, the courtroom was filled with college students and news reporters.
Ersland was chained at his waist, hands and feet. He wore a back brace and a gray and white jail top and black and white jail pants.
“I have nothing to say. Thank you,” he told the judge.
The son, Jeff Ersland, told reporters afterward, “I guess I'm just trying to stay optimistic moving forward and hoping for the best.”
An appeal to the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals will take at least 18 months, Box said. He said he feels strongly about the appeal.
The attorney was more pessimistic about Ersland's chance of getting the Pardon and Parole Board to recommend clemency to the governor. “I don't know,” he said. “It's politically motivated.”
Ersland was known as a hard worker at the pharmacy and was well liked by most customers there. Twice divorced, he lived in Chickasha with a pet dog he named after Winston Churchill, the British leader during World War II.
He played music for a church in Chickasha and collected guns for a hobby. He served in both the U.S. Army and U.S. Air Force and had never been arrested before the robbery.
The case revealed he also had a deceptive side. His first account of the shooting was contradicted by recordings from the drugstore's security cameras. His claim to police and others of being in combat in Iraq during the first Gulf War was contradicted by his military records.
His claim of having a broken inoperable back was contradicted by X-rays taken at the jail.