After 8 months of investigation and trial, mixed-race jury unanimously acquits in 9 hours
Yesterday, Tulsa OK Police Officer Betty Shelby, who is white, was acquitted of first-degree manslaughter charges arising from the September 16, 2016 shooting death of Terence Crutcher, who was black, according to reports by CNN and local Tulsa television news station KTUL.
Before issuing a verdict Wednesday night, the nine white jurors and three black jurors asked the judge if they could explain their verdict in court.
The judge told them they can only announce their verdict in court, not explain it, but said they were free to explain publicly after the trial concluded.
After the verdict, Shelby left without making a statement as Crutcher’s family tearfully left the courtroom.
The jury, consisting of nine white jurors and three black jurors, returned their unanimous verdict after nine hours of deliberations.
The essential facts of the case are that Officer Shelby came upon a non-compliant Crutcher stumbling around a roadway in the evening hours [*] after having apparently abandoned his vehicle in the middle of the road. Crutcher repeatedly made motions as if to reach for a weapon on his person, then walked to his vehicle, even as Shelby (and later more offices on the scene) were ordering him to cease these actions. When Crutcher reached into his vehicle, Shelby shot him once, causing fatal injury. Shelby has consistently held that she fired the shot in defense of herself and the other officers on the scene.
This verdict should come as no surprise to those who have read our previous posts on this case. For example, last October 12, only three weeks after the shooting, we noted in Legal Game Changer: Terence Crutcher had “High Levels” of PCP when shot by OK police that:
It appears that another negative narrative about a police shooting of a black suspect is about to go down in flames. This particular case involves the shooting death of suspect Terence Crutcher by Oklahoma police officer Betty Jo Shelby.
The racial narrative in the shooting death of Crutcher appears to have taken a fatal blow with the news yesterday, as reported in the New York Times and elsewhere, that the coroner in the case has determined the Crutcher “had a high level of the drug PCP in his body” at the time of his death (emphasis added).
This finding essentially puts the finishing bow on Officer Shelby’s narrative of a lawful use of deadly force, which was already consistent with all available evidence. It also puts a spotlight on the local prosecutor’s shameful and patently politically-motivated decision to charge Shelby with manslaughter in Crutcher’s death even before the coroner’s findings had been released.
We covered this case again on April 3, after Officer Shelby made an appearance on 60 Minutes: Terence Crutcher shooting Officer: “if he would’ve just done as I asked him”. In that post we noted:
Absent even a hint of evidence to counter that narrative of self-defense, it hardly seems possible that the prosecution could hope to disprove Shelby’s self-defense claim beyond a reasonable doubt.
Frankly, the whole matter strikes me as legally very straightforward, with an acquittal all but a certainty if a reasonable jury is empaneled.
Of course, we immediately followed those statements with:
Of course, all of the jurors know they will eventually be returning to their communities after Shelby’s trial, and an acquittal in Oklahoma can only mean that each and every one of the jurors voted for a verdict of not guilty.
And sure enough, immediately after the verdict was announced protestors gathered outside the courthouse, according to a report by CNN, calling for Officer Shelby to be presented to them: “Bring her out! No justice, no peace, no racist police!”
It seems likely that the jurors’ fears of just such protests is what led them to ask the judge if they could collectively make a public statement to accompany their verdict. This request was denied by trial Judge Doug Drummond, but he informed them they were free to make individual statements after they had been discharged from the jury.
In any case, I’ll add this case to the “outcome correctly predicted by Attorney Andrew Branca” side of the ledger.
[*] This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the time of day at which the relevant events took place.DONATE
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