A pharmacist who fatally shot a teenage robber in Oklahoma City was found guilty Thursday of first-degree murder in a jury trial that ignited debate over the limits of self-defense.
The pharmacist, 59-year-old Jerome Ersland, fired a weapon after two young men entered his pharmacy, one of them waving a gun, in May 2009. Mr. Ersland's bullet hit 16-year-old Antwun Parker in the head, Oklahoma County prosecutors alleged.
Moments later, Mr. Ersland shot Mr. Parker five more times as he lay unconscious on the ground, say prosecutors who had a security surveillance video to bolster their case.
Defense lawyers argued Mr. Ersland had the right to defend himself and others in the store. But the jury, which deliberated for less than four hours, found Mr. Ersland guilty of first-degree murder, punishable by life in prison.
Prosecutors declined to comment, citing a gag order from the judge. Defense attorneys couldn't immediately be reached for comment.
Oklahoma, like more than 20 other states, has encoded the right to self defense through so-called Castle Laws. Under these laws, citizens are allowed to use deadly force when they are threatened in their home—or their "castle"—or place of work.
Cases in which someone kills an intruder rarely go to trial, said Gary Kleck, a criminology professor at Florida State University. That's because police usually believe the defender was acting out of self-protection, or assume there isn't enough evidence to prove that the defender shot the intruder with malicious intent.
"They rarely have the benefit of videotape," said Mr. Kleck.
In the video of the Oklahoma City shooting, Mr. Ersland can be seen firing the first shot and Mr. Parker dropping to the floor. After chasing the other robber out the door, Mr. Ersland returns, walking past the place where Mr. Parker fell to get a second gun out of a drawer. He then points down toward the floor and shoots several times.
The main question before the jury was whether Mr. Parker still represented a threat after the first shot. Under Oklahoma law, the right to use deadly force ends as soon as the menace has passed, said Randy Coyne, a law professor at the University of Oklahoma. Mr. Coyne said he agreed with the jury verdict, based on that law.
Mr. Ersland had said that Mr. Parker was moving after the initial shot and was therefore still dangerous. Mr. Parker was not visible on the video at that point.
The case divided many in Oklahoma City. "Hero," read a comment on a Facebook page created to support Mr. Ersland. "Should be given the key to the city, for cleaning up some of the criminal element."
Earlier this year, Ralph Shortey, a state senator who represents the area, introduced the "Jerome Ersland Act," which would increase protections for citizens who kill or wound someone in the course of protecting themselves.
"The person who came in brandishing the firearm was not the victim, but we're trying to make him the victim," Mr. Shortey said.
But others said the right to self-defense doesn't include killing anyone rendered defenseless. Some said the shooting had a racist element because Mr. Ersland is white, and the slain teenager was black.
"We don't condone robbery in any form or fashion, but we don't condone murder either," said Garland Pruitt, president of the Oklahoma City chapter of the NAACP.
Cleta Jennings, the mother of the dead man, has filed a wrongful death suit asking the court for damages and accusing Mr. Ersland of negligence. Her lawyer declined to comment on the case.
I'm just curious about your opinions on this.