The Reliable Discount Pharmacy in the southern area of Oklahoma City was just preparing to close for the night when two would-be robbers jumped through the front door to steal money and drugs in May of 2009. One was pulling on a face mask and the other pointing a pistol when the pharmacist, Jerome Jay Ersland, grabbed a gun of his own.
As two terrified female employees raced to the back of the store, Ersland fatally shot Antwun “Speedy” Parker in the head. The other robber, Jevontai Ingram (who was holding his gun), was chased from the scene by the pharmacist before Ersland dashed back into the store, grabbed another pistol, and shot “Speedy” five more times.
This weekend the 59-year old Ersland was sentenced to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole until he is 97 years old. As he succinctly put it as he left the courtroom in chains, “(This is) an injustice of monumental proportion.”
As our nation still seethes over what 70 percent of Americans feel was the wrong verdict in the Casey Anthony trial, the Oklahoma City verdict has already caused petitions bearing over 17,000 signatures to be delivered to Gov. Mary Fallin in hopes she will commute the sentence and, as word begins to spread, Ersland has been portrayed as a martyr on Facebook and across the Internet.
It seems the would-be robbers, 16-year-old Antwun and 14-year-old Jevontai, were cousins and put up to the heist by Anthony “Black” Morrison and Emanual “E Man” Mitchell. Under Oklahoma law, accomplices in a crime involving murder can also be charged and, in separate hearings this week Morrison got life plus 30 years while Mitchell got life plus 45.
Jevontai, now 16, pled guilty to murder last year. He is still in a juvenile detention center but yesterday Ersland, his head shaved, was moved to the state’s assessment center before being assigned prison for the rest of his life.
No, it doesn’t add up. The prosecution tossed a self-defense plea because “Speedy” wasn’t armed when he was shot. Jevontai had the gun, remember? And then the jurors were further riled because when Ersland grabbed the other gun, video tapes showed “Speedy” was not moving and apparently unconscious while being shot five more times.
The jurors are adamant that they followed the law and can’t understand the outcry. “I've had some family members that have basically stated they thought I was stupid and it was the wrong decision,” one juror told the Oklahoma City newspaper. “I hate even watching the news for fear that I might see something about the case,” she added. “We didn't volunteer for it. We were asked to do this job and we took it very seriously.”
Ersland’s attorney, Irven Box, promised he would quickly appeal the decision. He called the verdict “a tragedy” and told reporters the outcome “more than likely” would have been different if jurors could have heard witnesses and testimony disallowed by the judge. “We really strongly believe that we didn't play on a level playing field,” he said. “We believe that we have a lot … of issues to appeal from.”
Perhaps the greatest appeal will come from the evidence itself. Here’s a 59-year-old pharmacist, with no prior record whatsoever, minding his store when two kids – quite uninvited - come in to rob him. He grabs a gun and shoots first, hitting the 16-year-old and scaring the 14-year-old into running.
He claims that when he returned to the store, “Speedy” moved so he shot him again. The police come. They find out the two kids have been pimped out by “Black” and “E Man.” Robbery? No question. Somebody dead? Happens all the time.
So the pharmacist, who was simply defending himself, goes to prison for the rest of his life? Are you kidding me?
Unless we find out much more we have “an injustice of monumental proportion.”