OKLAHOMA CITY – An Oklahoma pharmacist convicted of murder in the shooting death of a teenager who tried to rob the south Oklahoma City pharmacy where he worked was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole Monday in spite of his defense attorney and supporters' pleas that he be set free.
Jerome Ersland, 59, showed no emotion as District Judge Ray Elliott imposed the sentence recommended by a 12-member jury that found Ersland guilty of first-degree murder in the May 19, 2009, shooting death of 16-year-old Antwun Parker during an attempted robbery at the Reliable Discount Pharmacy.
Ersland claimed he was defending himself and two female co-workers when he shot Parker after he and a second teenager came into the pharmacy wearing ski masks and demanding money and drugs. Parker, who was unarmed, was struck in the head and knocked out. Ersland chased the second armed teen, Jevontai Ingram, now 16, out of the store.
Prosecutors said Ersland was justified in firing the first shot but went too far when he grabbed a second gun and fired five more bullets into Parker's abdomen, wounds that the Medical Examiner's Office said killed him. Ersland claimed the unconscious teen was still moving.
Ersland, shackled at the hands and feet in a jail-issued jumpsuit, stood before Elliott while defense attorney Irven Box asked the judge to suspend the life sentence. When the judge asked if he had anything to say, Ersland replied: "I don't have anything to say. Thank you."
Later, as he was led from court by sheriff's deputies, he responded to a reporter's shouted question by calling the sentence "an injustice of a monumental proportion."
District Attorney David Prater had opposed a suspended sentence and said Ersland was found guilty by a "stoic and serious jury" that has been criticized by bloggers and others who didn't see the evidence or hear the testimony in the case.
"Me and my office have been criticized. Even the defense team has been criticized," Prater said. "The rule of law applies. No one is above it."
Ersland's son, Jeff, was in court when his father was sentenced. He said he and others will continue collecting signatures on a petition that expresses outrage over the verdict and urges Gov. Mary Fallin and others to "please help us right this wrong." Petitions containing the names of about 17,000 people were delivered to Fallin's office last week.
"We hope that eventually our voice will make a difference in freeing him from prison," Jeff Ersland said. "While a jury handed down a decision based on the letter of the law, we do not believe that complete justice was served in this tragic case of self-defense.
"We believe that armed robbers who enter our businesses and threaten our lives bear the responsibility for the outcome of an armed conflict that they initiate."
Jeff Ersland has said the sentence recommended by the jury is essentially a life sentence; Jerome Ersland will have to serve 38 years in prison before he is eligible for parole.
"I was hoping the outcome would be a little bit different," his son said. "It's definitely hard to deal with. It's just really hard to see him like that. He's a good guy."
Box said the conviction and sentence will be appealed. During the trial, defense attorneys wanted to question a pharmacist who had been victimized by robberies to show a person's state-of-mind when confronted by armed masked men but Elliott didn't allow that testimony, he said.
"The judge kept a lot of this out," he said. "We believe that we have a lot of issues to appeal from."
Meanwhile, a different judge handed down separate life sentences to two men who authorities said helped plan the robbery and recruited the teens. Anthony Morrison, 45, and Emanuel Mitchell, 37, were charged under Oklahoma's felony murder law that allows prosecutors to file a first-degree murder charge if an accomplice dies during a crime. They were convicted on that and other charges.
District Judge Kenneth Watson sentenced Morrison to life plus 30 years in prison and Mitchell to life plus 45 years. In sentencing Morrison, Watson said he recruited two teens to commit a crime that he wouldn't do.
"You sent two kids," the judge said. The second teen, Ingram, was sentenced to a state juvenile facility after pleading guilty to first-degree murder.
Mitchell denied having anything to do with the robbery.
"I'm not guilty of the whole crime, period," Mitchell said. Watson denied his motion for a new trial and commented on his lengthy criminal history.
"You've taken your life down that road," the judge said. "A lot of people are able to turn their lives around. You've chosen not to do that."