An emotional jury Thursday decided pharmacist Jerome Jay Ersland was guilty of first-degree murder for fatally shooting a masked robber two years ago inside an Oklahoma City drugstore.
Jurors chose life in prison as punishment.
Two female co-workers at Reliable Discount Pharmacy told jurors Ersland was a hero who saved their lives on May 19, 2009. But prosecutors called him an executioner who shot a wounded, unarmed robber five more times after the robber fell to the floor unconscious and was no longer a threat.
The eight women and four men were solemn as they filed back into an Oklahoma County courtroom after wrapping up deliberations in three hours and thirty minutes. Some had tears in their eyes. Each answered, “Yes,” in a quiet voice when the judge asked them one at a time if that was the verdict.
“It was a really hard day,” one juror said later.
“All of us took this seriously,” another juror said. “It was a very emotional day. … We're judged by the laws of our society. You have to live within those laws. Tough or not, you still have to live within those laws.”
Ersland, 59, of Chickasha, had no reaction as Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott read the verdict. Sheriff deputies immediately handcuffed him and led him to jail.
Formal sentencing was set for July 11. The judge has the authority to suspend part or all of the life term but that rarely happens in murder cases.
Ersland had expected a conviction, giving away his pet dog, Winston, on Wednesday. During a break in the trial Wednesday, he showed off pictures of the dog. “I sure will miss him,” he said.
The case set off a national debate in 2009 when prosecutors charged the pharmacist and made public the security camera recordings of the shooting. Ersland had considerable support at first but that dropped off when it turned out he had fabricated his claims of being a combat veteran of the first Gulf War.
Killed during the robbery was Antwun “Speedy” Parker, 16, of Oklahoma City. He was shot first in the head then five more times in the abdomen and chest. The second shots were fired from 18 to 24 inches away, according to testimony. Police investigators determined he did not have a gun.
After the verdict Thursday, Parker's mother, Cleta Jennings, and other relatives huddled together in tears outside the courtroom. “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus,” they said.
Ersland did not testify during the trial. He told police he shot Parker five more times before chasing a second robber out of the pharmacy. The security camera recordings show he actually shot Parker again after chasing the second robber away, coming back inside the store and getting a second gun. Ersland changed his account of the shooting after the security camera recordings became public.
In the police interview, he referred to Parker as “the guy that I nailed.”
Ersland sat stone-faced during closing arguments Thursday as prosecutors repeatedly called him an executioner.
“This defendant made himself judge, jury, executioner,” Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Chance said before a packed courtroom.
She said Parker was no longer a threat after being shot in the head. She said, “He was a 16-year-old boy lying unconscious on the floor.”
The pharmacist's lead defense attorney said Ersland acted in self-defense. “He did something to protect himself and the two women,” attorney Irven Box said.Ongoing Coverage: Jerome Ersland