Attorneys for an Oklahoma City pharmacist began work Friday on the appeal of his murder conviction, while some stunned supporters asked Gov. Mary Fallin on Friday to pardon him.
“We've already started,” lead attorney Irven Box said of the appeal, which will take months to complete.
Jerome Jay Ersland, 59, was jailed Thursday afternoon immediately after an emotional jury found him guilty of first-degree murder. Jurors chose a life term as punishment.
The pharmacist was convicted of murder for fatally shooting a masked robber, Antwun “Speedy” Parker, 16, inside Reliable Discount Pharmacy near closing time May 19, 2009.
Jurors had been given the options of finding Ersland guilty of first-degree manslaughter instead or of acquitting him entirely. The pharmacist claimed he acted in self-defense. He did not testify.
Debate over actions
The verdict shocked many and renewed a public debate over his actions. Hundreds commented online at NewsOK.com and other media Web sites.
“The man had a right to protect his life, other people in the pharmacy and his property,” wrote Philip Palmer, who lives in Wayne. “This is such a waste of taxpayers' time and money for the trial and now … to pay to keep him in prison.”
One of his trial attorneys, Joe Reynolds, visited Ersland in jail Friday. Before his conviction, the pharmacist had been free on $100,000 bail. He lived in Chickasha.
“They're not giving him his medicines. He wasn't good at all,” Box said.
Formal sentencing is set for July 11. Box said Friday he will ask Oklahoma County District Judge Ray C. Elliott to reschedule the formal sentencing for as soon as possible.
The judge could suspend part or all of the life term. If he doesn't, Ersland will not be eligible for parole for more than 38 years.
After the verdict, some of the pharmacist's supporters created Facebook groups called Free Jerome Ersland and Pardon for Jerome Ersland.
The governor's office confirmed Fallin received constituent correspondence Friday about the pharmacist's case. Some asked for a pardon or commutation of the life term.
Any action by the governor on the case will not be soon.
“When convicted of a crime, an individual has the right to petition the Pardon and Parole Board to request his … sentence be commuted. If a majority of the board votes to recommend a commutation, that case then heads to the governor,” said Fallin's communications director, Alex Weintz.
“After conducting her own review that takes into account all the facts of the case, the governor may then decide either to grant or deny the commutation,” Weintz said.
About the trial
Prosecutors called Ersland an executioner. They said he killed an unarmed, unconscious boy who was no longer a threat and then lied to police to make himself look like a hero. Ersland was charged after prosecutors reviewed security camera recordings that contradicted his police statement.
Defense attorneys said he was a hero who protected himself and two female co-workers during an armed robbery.
The security camera recordings show Parker and a friend, Jevontai Ingram, then 14, rush into the drugstore. Ingram points a handgun at the two female workers who flee to a backroom. Parker, who does not have a gun, tries to adjust a gray mask. Parker drops to the floor when the pharmacist shoots him in the head.
The recordings show Ingram flees from the store. Ersland follows the fleeing robber outside, then returns to the store, walks by where Parker has fallen, gets a second gun, walks back to Parker and shoots five more times.
The last shots were fired from 18 to 24 inches away and struck Parker in the abdomen and chest, according to the testimony.
The sequence of events happens over a minute and 2 seconds, according to the evidence. Police said Ingram never fired his gun inside the store.
The security camera recordings do not show Parker again after he falls on his back. Prosecutors said physical evidence proves the boy never moved on the floor. Prosecutors also said Ersland obviously did not think of the boy as a threat because he walked right over the boy and has his back to the boy as he gets the second gun.
Defense attorneys contended Parker could have moved his arms or feet, even while unconscious, and been perceived as a threat.
District Attorney David Prater told jurors only the first shot at Parker was justified.
Defense attorneys are expected in their appeal to focus on the trial judge's rulings against them. Ersland on Wednesday complained the trial was unfair because the judge barred testimony from other robbery victims about the stress they endured.
“That's what killed us was the witness deal,” Ersland said Wednesday. “I had real good witnesses.”
One of the barred witnesses was Chad Jones, a pharmacist in Chelsea, in far northeast Oklahoma. An armed robber wanting drugs beat Jones and an employee with a hammer in 2007. Jones, 34, said Friday he would have told the jury, “You don't know what you would do until you're in that situation.”
The verdict is making pharmacists uncertain, Jones said.
“I mean, what do we do now? How do we protect ourselves now?” Jones said. “What if someone were to come into our pharmacy? … Can we defend ourselves? No, because we may get murder one.”