A Pennsylvania jury on Thursday acquitted a police officer of all charges in the fatal shooting of an unarmed suspect as he lay in the snow, knocked to the ground by her stun gun.
After deliberating for close to 11 hours, the jury acquitted Officer Lisa Mearkle, a veteran of the Hummelstown Police Department, of third-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the death of David Kassick, 59, of Hummelstown.
A centerpiece of the case against Mearkle, 37, was a videotape recorded by the stun gun she used to bring down Kassick in February in the small town about 10 miles east of Harrisburg, the state capital.
The jerky video played for the jury in Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas in Harrisburg. It shows Kassick face down as Mearkle is heard repeatedly shouting, "Show your hands!" Afterwards, two gunshots ring out and a red spot appears on Kassick’s back.
One of Kassick’s relatives shouted “murderer” after the verdict was read, local news site PennLive.com reported.
In the courthouse lobby, Mearkle told reporters she hoped to return to the police force that suspended her after the shooting. The police chief was not immediately available for comment.
"I've been to hell and back," said Mearkle, breaking into tears.
"We were always convinced that citizens would not second-guess a law enforcement officer under these circumstances," added her lawyer Brian Perry, who said during the trial that Mearkle acted out of fear for her life.
Kassick's nephew, Kevin Fetter, told reporters that he still considers Mearkle a murderer.
"She feared for her life from a man who was laying on the ground. I think she murdered him in cold blood," Fetter said.
Prosecutor Johnny Baer was not immediately available for comment.
The shooting took place after Mearkle attempted to pull over Kassick for an expired vehicle inspection sticker and he fled. Mearkle used her stun gun to bring him down. Perry had told jurors that as Kassick lay in the snow, his left hand appeared to be reaching into his coat, presumably for a gun, and that caused the officer to shoot.
Police later found no weapon on Kassick, who served 10 years in federal prison for a heroin sale that resulted in a death.
Mearkle's arrest for criminal homicide came during a national wave of concern over police shootings of unarmed suspects, many of them African-American. Both Mearkle and Kassick are white.
Al Jazeera and Reuters