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.
Box called the pharmacist a hero who had the courage to tell his two co-workers to go hide while he took care of the two robbers.
The second robber, Jevontai Ingram, then 14, fled. Ingram pulled out a gun inside the pharmacy but did not fire it, according to testimony. He was caught days later. He has pleaded guilty to first-degree murder for his role in his friend's death. He will be released from a juvenile detention facility before his 19th birthday if he completes a treatment plan.
In his closing argument, Box had jurors close their eyes and imagine they were in the pharmacy when the two robbers come in, one pointing a gun and pulling back on the gun's slide. He asked jurors to imagine shooting one robber, chasing the other and coming back in the pharmacy, with an empty gun, where the first robber still was.
He then asked jurors to open their eyes and told them 45 second had passed. He said that's how much time passed for the pharmacist before he shot again.
“This wasn't a basketball game where he can call a timeout,” Box said.
Prosecutors told jurors in closing arguments Thursday that the evidence proves Parker never moved again after a shot to the head knocked him to the pharmacy floor. They said Ersland's own actions prove he didn't consider the wounded robber a threat when he shot him again.
“Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, an execution,” District Attorney David Prater said.
During the closing arguments, Prater played for jurors again the security camera recordings of the shooting. He stopped it at points, telling jurors the pharmacist turned his back to the downed robber to get a second gun to shoot the robber again.
“It's a human trait. You don't turn your back on something you're afraid of,” Prater said.
Prosecutors told jurors Ersland lied to police about what happened during the shooting, trying to come up with a good story to cover his wrongdoing. They said he underestimated how much homicide detectives would investigate.
They also reminded jurors he had lied about killing people during the first Gulf War. They said his military records show he was at Altus Air Force Base in 1991 and never was in combat.
Prosecutors also reminded jurors of testimony Ersland had faked a gunshot wound in an effort to support his defense. “He lies about everything,” Prater said.
Box conceded that the pharmacist has said some “goofy things” and had facts wrong in his police interview and about his military record. He argued that didn't change what the pharmacist perceived inside the pharmacy.
Jurors were given the option of finding Ersland guilty of first-degree manslaughter instead or of acquitting him completely.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys have been ordered not to comment on the case until after the formal sentencing. An appeal is expected.
Ersland had been free on $100,000 bail. He had a handcuff key on him when he went through a courthouse security checkpoint Thursday morning, sheriff deputies said. He gave up the handcuff key when confronted about it.
Earlier this month, another jury convicted the two men who planned the drugstore robbery of first-degree murder. That jury decided Emanuel D. “E Man” Mitchell, 33, and Anthony D. “Black” Morrison, 45, should spend life in prison. The two talked the teenagers into doing the robbery and waited nearby in getaway cars.