The law and the evidence left jurors with no other option but to find Tulsa Police Office Betty Shelby not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the shooting death of Terence Crutcher, according to a letter from the jury foreman released by the Tulsa County District Court on Friday.
The letter does not identify the foreman by name.
“The State, in this case, had the burden to prove guilt to each element of the respective charge, beyond a reasonable doubt,” the letter states. “Some elements are extremely specific, which makes it more challenging for the prosecution to cross the barrier of ‘beyond a reasonable doubt.’
“In this case, after extensive deliberation, we the Jury, in accordance with the instructions provided by the Court and through examination of all the evidence presented, could not overcome guilt beyond a reasonable doubt and consequently delivered a ‘not guilty’ verdict.
Shelby, who is white, shot and killed Crutcher, who was black, after encountering him outside his SUV on a road in the 2300 block of East 36th Street North on Sept. 16. A video of the incident — captured by a police helicopter — shows Shelby following Crutcher as he walks away from her and toward his vehicle with his hands up.
During her trial, Shelby testified that she thought Crutcher was high on PCP and had a gun and that he was not responsive to her orders to stop walking and get on his knees. Shelby shot Crutcher — and another officer Tased him — as he stood in front of the driver’s-side window of his SUV.
Shelby testified in court that at that moment she believed Crutcher was reaching into the vehicle for a weapon. But no weapon was found on Crutcher’s person or inside the car.
The letter from the jury foreman addresses that moment and several other key issues that surrounded the case. The foreman makes clear that while the letter is his best attempt to capture the thoughts and beliefs of the jury, it should not be read to reflect the individual thoughts of each juror.
“This letter attempts to capture the thoughts of the Jury as a whole as accurately as is reasonable,” the letter states.
Here’s what the foreman’s letter states regarding several key issues in the trial:
1. Was the driver’s-side window of Terence Crutcher’s vehicle open? Yes.
“It is clear to the Jury after intensely studying the video, still photos, and testimony that the windows to the SUV driven by Terrance Crutcher (sic) that evening were open.”
2. Did Terence Crutcher reach into the driver’s-side window of the vehicle? Yes.
“The Jury believes from said evidence that Terrance (sic) Crutcher did in fact reach into the window disobeying the instructions of police officers on location.”
3. Was Shelby acting in accordance with her training the moment she shot Crutcher? Yes.
“The jury concluded that any officer put in that situation at that exact moment and regardless of the skin color, gender or size of the suspect, would have performed the same way, which is in accordance with their law enforcement training.”
4. Didn’t Shelby have the option of using a Taser to subdue Crutcher in the minutes leading up to the shooting? Not sure.
“The Jury, without knowledge of the guidelines learned through law enforcement training, believes that a Taser attempt to subdue Mr. Crutcher before he reached his vehicle could have saved his life and that potential scenario was seemingly an option available to her; however, there was no evidence presented that her extensive training allowed such an option. The Jury could not, beyond a reasonable doubt, conclude that she did anything outside of her duties and training as a police officer in that situation. This was critical to the verdict rendered.”
5. Did jurors believe Shelby was blameless in Crutcher’s death? No.
“Because of this perceived option (of using a Taser before shooting Crutcher) that she may have had, many on the Jury could never get comfortable with the concept of Betty Shelby being blameless for Mr. Crutcher’s death.”
6. Then why not convict her? Lack of evidence.
“Due to the lack of direct or even circumstantial evidence that she was acting outside of her training in the 30 feet prior to Mr. Crutcher reaching the window of that SUV, the Jury was forced by the rule of law to render a not guilty verdict.”
7. Did Shelby shoot Crutcher out of fear, or in accordance with her training? In accordance with her training.
“Evidence presented led the Jury to believe that Officer Shelby was indeed fearful, increasingly so as the incident escalated. However, the Jury concluded that she did act within the confines of her training at that very moment when the homicide was committed. The evidence presented did not prove beyond a reasonable doubt anything to the contrary that Training, not fear, dominated in her choice to perform that action.”
8. Did Terence Crutcher’s police record play a role in the jury’s verdict? No.
“Terrance (sic) Crutcher had an arrest history and multiple outstanding arrest warrants. Guilt in previous incidents, were not considered as a means to justify Officer Shelby’s actions.”
Tulsa Police Chief Chuck Jordan announced Friday that Shelby, 43, will return to work at the Tulsa Police Department but not in a patrol capacity.
She has been on unpaid administrative leave since being charged in September.