Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Self-defense or murder?
Jerome Ersland has caused quite a stir to the east of us on I-40. The Oklahoma City pharmacist has been charged with first-degree murder after defending his store last week against a robbery. Prosecutors say he went too far.
Confronted by two holdup teens, Ersland pulled a gun, shot one of them in the head and chased the other away. Then, in a scene recorded by the drugstore’s security camera, he went behind the counter, got another gun, and pumped five more bullets into the wounded teen as he lay on the floor.
Now Ersland has been charged with first-degree murder in a case that has stirred a furious debate over vigilante justice and self-defense and turned the pharmacist into something of a folk hero.
Ersland, 57, is free on $100,000 bail, courtesy of an anonymous donor. He has won praise from the pharmacy’s owner, received an outpouring of cards, letters and checks from supporters, and become the darling of conservative talk radio.
“His adrenaline was going. You’re just thinking of survival,” John Paul Hernandez, 60, a retired Defense Department employee who grew up in the neighborhood, told the Associated Press. “All it was is defending your employees, business and livelihood."
District Attorney David Prater said Ersland was justified in shooting 16-year-old Antwun Parker once in the head, but not in firing the additional shots into his belly. The prosecutor said the teenager was unconscious, unarmed, lying on his back and posing no threat when Ersland fired what the medical examiner said were the fatal shots.
Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called it an “execution-style murder” and praised the district attorney for bringing charges. Ersland is white; the two suspects were black.
But many of those who have seen the video of the May 19 robbery attempt at Reliable Discount Pharmacy have concluded the teenager in the ski mask got what he deserved.
Mark Shannon, who runs a conservative talk show on Oklahoma City’s KTOK, said callers have jammed his lines this week in support of Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who wears a back brace on the job and told reporters he is a disabled veteran of the Gulf War.
The video shows two men bursting in, one of them pointing a gun at Ersland and two women working with the druggist behind the counter. Ersland fires a pistol, driving the gunman from the store and hitting Parker in the head as he puts on a ski mask.
Ersland chases the second man outside, then goes back inside, walks behind the counter with his back to Parker, gets a second handgun and opens fire.
So what do you think, vigilante justice or murder?