Bernie Goetz, Redux

Making headlines is Jerome Ersland, an Oklahoma City pharmacist who has been charged with first-degree murder for his actions during a robbery on May 29.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story, Ersland, a former Air Force lieutenant colonel (by the way, does anyone know why this is pronounced “kernel?”) and Gulf War veteran, was approached in his store by two masked men, one of whom brandished a pistol and demanded money and drugs.  Ersland pulled a pistol and shot the gunman in the head.  The other robber fled; Ersland gave brief chase, then returned to the store.  He went into the back, retrieved another pistol, and pumped five more rounds into the fallen robber’s stomach.  All this was caught on the store’s surveillance camera:

The debate is now raging over whether Ersland’s actions constitute self-defense or premeditated murder, but I think it’s pretty clear-cut.  When Erlsand returns to the store, he does not seem threatened by the fallen robber; he has even transferred the pistol to his left (non-shooting) hand as he calmly walks behind the counter to retrieve the second gun.  Yes, Ersland committed murder.  And you know what?  Good.  That’s one fewer violent criminal walking the streets.  I don’t understand the sympathy people have for this piece of shit.  “He didn’t have to die,” they say.  They’re right; if he had obeyed the law rather than tried to rob someone, he’d still be alive.

And of course, the race pimps over at the NAACP are rushing to the support of the robbers: “This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue. This is a justice issue,” said Anthony Douglas, state president of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP. Nigga, please. You mean to tell me that if the pharmacist had been black and the robbers white you would take the same position?  Come off it.


7 Responses to Bernie Goetz, Redux

  1. Gonna side with the prosecution in this one. The pharmacist committed a crime when he went back and finished him off–one of your links says the autopsy revealed he died from the five extra shots. The threat was neutralized when he shot him in the head, so what was he doing shooting him again? I don’t think the pharmacist deserves much, if any, jail time for this, but he had a right to protect himself, not to play executioner.

  2. Dan says:

    I say that if you threaten someone’s life, you risk severe retaliation; that retaliation may include being shot even after your threat has been neutralized. As I say in the post, I agree that the pharmacist committed murder, but given that the victim was an armed robber I think he did more good than harm.

  3. No one is arguing that the pharmacist did not have the right to shoot the kid in the head. If he had killed him with that shot, or continued shooting right then, no one would care. It was the fact that he came back into the store, when the kid no longer posed any conceivable threat, to shot him five more times that got him in trouble.

    “[DA] Prater says Ersland was justified in shooting Parker in the head but went too far when he returned and repeatedly shot Parker as he lay unarmed and unconscious.”

  4. rpollack says:

    So it sounds like your argument isn’t about what will likely be argued in court for this case, but more generally whether it ought to be kosher to go murdering violent criminals. In the present case, the STATE would not even have been able to pursue to death penalty for the crime(s) committed by the deceased; so it seems that your standard for capital punishment is rather lower than in all but a few places in the world. Had the pharmacist not killed the robber, would you have advocated for his execution by the state? Would you now argue for the execution of his accomplices?

    (If so, that’s at least a consistent position. Perhaps you would like living in Singapore.)

    As for our current laws, though, it seems rather difficult to argue that a man incapacitated on the ground with a gunshot wound to the head presents much of an immediate threat, and thus hard to call subsequent action toward him self-defense. I would expect the question then to become whether the time separating the first shot from the subsequent ones amounts to a demonstration of premeditation (I suspect it does not quite), or if the adrenaline and circumstances of the moment mitigate such a claim, and subsequent shots were merely deliberate attempts to kill a person in the heat of passion though without the justification of any imminent threat. It seems to be at least voluntary manslaughter.

    You (shrewdly) do not ague that the final shots were in self-defense, but only that homicide is justifiable against violent criminals. I wonder, then, when the justification expires. Not, according to you, merely for the imminent threat having been neutralized. But suppose the pharmacist was robbed yesterday, the perpetrators escaped, and he sees them today in a shopping mall. Is he justified in executing them there? Or years later?

    (I understand, as you explain in your comment—perhaps differently than in your post—that if I were to commit such a crime I should anticipate such violent retaliation. But the question here is not what one should expect from other vengeful human beings, but rather how the law in civil society should be structured in fairness to all.)

    There may be a certain gut-level satisfaction in the elimination of a potentially violent criminal, but it seems to me that line drawn by the law is a fair one: do what you must in the face of imminent threat, but beyond that narrow line it’s for the law and not the individual citizen.

    Also, from wikipedia:
    “In modern English, the word colonel is pronounced similarly to kernel (of grain) as a result of entering the language from Middle French in two competing forms, dissimilated coronel and colonel. The more conservative spelling colonel was favored in written use and eventually became the standard spelling even as it lost out in pronunciation to coronel.”

  5. Dan says:

    Well put, Robbie. Regarding your first argument, I would not argue for the execution of the accomplices, and this is in no way inconsistent with my position. When one chooses to commit armed robbery, he takes on two risks: that of punishment by the state and that of retaliation by the victim. The fact that the latter may exceed the former in severity does not make it unjustified.

    Regarding your second argument, I don’t think that the pharmacist should be allowed to retaliate against his assailants after the fact, away from the scene (though I would sympathize with him if he did). I do not, however, consider this scenario to be after the fact; the robber’s very presence in the store is part of the criminal act.

    Finally, we don’t really know whether the robber still posed an imminent threat; it’s likely that the pharmacist didn’t, either. What do you mean by “imminent,” anyway? If I were the pharmacist and thought there was even a 1% chance that the robber could recover and shoot at me again, you’d better believe I’d finish the job. It probably would have been more prudent to call the cops instead, but I think what he did is justifiable.

    Thanks for the “colonel” info.

  6. Damien says:


  7. I almost never leave a response, however i did a few searching and wound up here Bernie Goetz,
    Redux | Moral Hazard. And I do have a few questions for you if it’s allright. Is it simply me or does it give the impression like a few of these responses appear as if they are written by brain dead people? 😛 And, if you are posting at other sites, I would like to follow everything fresh you have to post. Would you list of all of all your social sites like your twitter feed, Facebook page or linkedin profile?

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