“In Self Defense” The Jerome Ersland Case: The Line Between Self Defense And Murder- Reasonable Fear
The Jerome Ersland Case
The line between self-defense and murder
Part 4: Reasonable Fear
In this installment of “The Four Elements of Self-Defense,” we explore how the concept of “reasonable fear” factored into the legal defense in the Jerome Ersland case. Like most of the shooters we analyze, Ersland was NOT a CCW Safe member. We’ve chosen his case because it provides clear lessons for concealed carriers regarding what can go wrong in a self-defense shooting.
When two men enter a pharmacy, dawn ski masks, and one of them draws a pistol, it is completely reasonable that the pharmacist on the other side of the counter would be in fear for his life. That’s exactly what happened to Jerome Ersland on May 19, 2009.
The robbers were Antwun Parker and Jevontai Ingram, teenagers at the time. Ingram had the gun. Ersland had been the victim of an armed robbery before and knowing that criminals prized pharmacies for the valuable narcotics they stock, he kept a pistol at work — two, in fact. The first pistol was a Taurus Judge which Ersland had loaded with .410 buckshot and .45 rounds.
When Ersland fired at his assailants, a pellet struck Parker in the head, and he collapsed to the ground. Ingram fled, and Ersland followed him out of the pharmacy, firing two or three more shots as Ingram retreated down a busy Oklahoma City street.
The security camera recorded what happened next. Ersland reentered the pharmacy. While Parker’s body was not in frame, investigators knew precisely where he was found, and it’s clear Ersland steps over him. Then he turns his back on the incapacitated teen and walks behind the counter. While out of frame, Ersland gets a Kel-Tec .380 from a drawer and racks the slide. He emerges back into view with the pistol drawn, and he leans forward as he fires five rounds into Parker’s body, center mass. Ersland appears calm. His actions seem deliberate.
All the medical experts who testified at trial determined that, while the pellet to the head incapacitated Parker, it was the five shots to center mass that killed him. A blood spatter expert testified that the blood that pooled around Parker’s head was undisturbed, conflicting with Ersland’s testimony that Parker “wouldn’t stay down.”
A self-defense claim requires that the shooter has reasonable fear that the threat of death or great bodily harm is imminent. Anyone who watches the surveillance video will see that when the two masked robbers rush into the pharmacy and pull a gun, that fear is reasonable. In fact, the video shows the panicked reaction of two pharmacy techs who flee to the back of the store at the sight of Ingram’s gun.
Gary Eastridge is CCW Safe’s Critical Response Coordinator and he worked for the Oklahoma City district attorney at the time of the Ersland case. He describes the period of time in a confrontation when deadly force is justified as a window. “The window of reasonableness opens wide, and then, as it starts to close, it becomes less clear,” he says, “and once the window is closed, deadly force is no longer justified.”
For Ersland, that window closed when Parker is hit and collapses, and Ingram rushes out of the store. Ersland has neutralized the threat, and the prospect of death or great bodily harm is no longer imminent.
When Ersland follows Ingram outside and fires down a public street after the fleeing robber, he’s clearly crossed a line between fear and anger. The pharmacy was equipped with magnetic locks, and if Ersland was still in fear, he could have engaged those. One cannot chase down a threat and claim self-defense.
Eastridge also comments on the video evidence. “There is nothing in Mr. Ersland’s demeanor as he re-enters the pharmacy and turns his back to Mr. Parker to retrieve the second gun that demonstrates he was still afraid,” he says. “This fear is not reasonable if you’re turning your back to the threat to retrieve a second gun.”
Prosecuting District Attorney David Prater agreed that the first shot that struck Parker was justified, but he referred to the final shots as an “execution.” He charged Ersland with first-degree murder, which means premeditated murder as CCW Safe’s National Trial Counsel Don West explains. “Premeditation means the reflection process. You make the decision to kill, you think about it — it doesn’t have to be hours or days; it can be seconds — and then you do it.”
For the jury that convicted Ersland, it was obvious that Ersland had made a decision to finish off the robber that had threatened his life and the lives of his co-workers, and then he did it.
The lesson for the concealed carrier is that in a dynamic, fast-paced self-defense scenario, the window of reasonable fear can close quickly and fear can turn into anger or rage. When it comes to the use of deadly force, reasonable fear is justifiable, anger is not. In a self-defense trial, a jury is asked to look into the heart of the shooter and decide whether they see fear or anger. If you ever find yourself in a difficult situation with your firearm in your hand, you probably won’t have time to think about all the lessons we’ve talked about in these articles, but hopefully you’ll be able to look into your own heart and decide what you find there.
In our series “The Four Elements of Self-Defense,” we explore how location, escalation, reasonable fear, and post-incident actions can affect the legal defense in a self-defense shooting. In the next installment, we’ll look specifically at how Jerome Ersland’s post-incident actions factored into his legal defense.
SHAWN VINCENT- LITIGATION CONSULTANT
Shawn Vincent is a litigation consultant who helps select juries in self-defense cases, and he manages public interest of high-profile legal matters. If you have any questions for Shawn, or would like more articles like this, let us know belo