Dr. Frank Ochberg has watched the story around pharmacist Jerome Ersland unfold with great interest, given Ochberg’s expertise on post traumatic stress disorder and Ersland’s status as a military veteran. The Michigan psychiatrist said he has watched with dismay the heated, public response that paints Ersland as either a vigilante hero or cold-blooded murderer. Opinions have flooded radio talk shows, newspapers and Web sites nationwide. "If you have a strong opinion about what happened and the facts aren’t all in, what does that say about the people giving the opinion?” Ochberg said during a telephone interview. "What is a trial for?” Ochberg instead promotes caution and objectivity. He hopes the public — and media — will use this time to "elevate the conversation” about the tragic events of May 19 when Ersland shot and killed Antwun "Speedy” Parker, 16, during an armed robbery at Reliable Discount Pharmacy in south Oklahoma City. Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater charged Ersland with first-degree murder for allegedly crossing the line in his own self-defense. The prosecutor claims Ersland stood over an unarmed, already unconscious Parker and delivered the lethal blow by firing five more times into the teen’s abdomen. Ersland claims he feared for his life despite having knocked Parker to the drugstore floor with a shot to the head.
Back in the warOchberg thinks there might be yet another explanation for Ersland’s actions. The answer might rest in the place left to explore — Ersland’s mind. "If a person suffers from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) from a military situation, they might not always see it coming,” said Ochberg, who has helped research and define the disorder. "But I’ve talked to many veterans and have testified to this before in many, many trials. Something like an assault might trigger that past trauma, and all of sudden, that person is back in Vietnam or the Gulf War.” Often the veteran is transported in a "trance” with little or "no recall of the traumatic event.” "If I were a defense attorney,” Ochberg said, "that’s certainly something I would look into.”
Seeing it both waysGun range owner Paul Abel of Shawnee also is fascinated by the legal and psychological aspects of the Ersland case. The former Pottawatomie County sheriff is the Oklahoma Rifle Association legislative director and has been teaching self-defense since he opened his shop in 1977. "I teach our students to stop that altercation as quickly a possible,” said Abel, 73. "That means if you believe your life is in imminent danger, to act immediately. Yelling, ‘Don’t fire that gun!’ or something to that effect is pure TV and movie fiction. That doesn’t work in real life. Shoot as soon as possible. But once the threat has passed, you must stop. That’s the law. "Sadly, that pharmacist crossed that line when he went back and shot that boy.” Abel speaks as a former law enforcement officer of nearly 40 years, and someone who was once shot. On another occasion he was attacked by two men — one of whom wielded a knife. "I spun the man so he stuck his friend, not me,” Abel explained. "I was carrying a gun at the time. Someone asked me afterward why I didn’t use my gun. I said, ‘I didn’t have to. The threat had passed.’ "Now don’t get me wrong. I understand that pharmacist. Quite candidly, I’m on his side. I just know how the law is written.”
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