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Murder charge raises debate about self-defense

OKLAHOMA CITY — Confronted by two robbers, pharmacist Jerome 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 teenager as he lay on the floor.

Now Ersland has been charged with first-degree murder in a case that has stirred a 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. Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel who told reporters he is a disabled veteran of the Gulf War, has won praise from the pharmacy's owner, and received an outpouring of cards, letters and checks.

"His adrenaline was going. You're just thinking of survival," said John Paul Hernandez, 60, a retired Defense Department employee who grew up in the neighborhood.

District Attorney David Prater said Ersland was justified in shooting 16-year-old Antwun Parker once, but not in firing the additional shots. Prosecutors said those shots came as the teen lay unarmed and unconscious.

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.

Irven Box, Ersland's attorney, said there has been an outpouring of support for the pharmacist, including $2,000 in donations. "I feel very good 12 people would not determine he committed murder in the first degree," Box said.

Jevontia Ingram, the 14-year-old boy accused of wielding the gun in the robbery, was arrested Thursday. The district attorney on Friday filed a first-degree murder charge against him, as well as against a man accused of being the getaway driver, and another man suspected of helping talk the teens into the crime.

Anthony Douglas, president of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACPpraised the district attorney but said the organization has taken no position on Ersland's guilt or innocence.

"We want the system to do its job," Douglas said.

Ersland is white and the suspects in the store were black.

Murder charge raises debate about self-defense 05/29/09 [Last modified: Friday, May 29, 2009 10:37pm]
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