TULSA, Okla. (CN) – A jury acquitted former Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby late Wednesday evening of first-degree manslaughter in the 2016 shooting death of an unarmed black motorist.
Jurors deliberated for nine hours after closing arguments. At least five jurors started crying after the verdict was read, the Tulsa World reported.
Defense attorney Shannon McMurray of Tulsa hugged Shelby after the acquittal. They left the courthouse without commenting.
Shelby, 43, faced up to life in state prison if convicted. She shot and killed Terence Crutcher, 40, in September after he refused to follow her commands and walked toward his disabled SUV in the middle of a street.
Police dashboard and helicopter video show Crutcher, who was black, walking away from Shelby and her police cruiser with both arms in the air before he was shot. Shelby, who is white, has insisted she did so out of fear he was reaching for a weapon inside his car. No weapon was found on Crutcher or in the car. The defense has maintained the left-front window was open, while the Crutcher family has cited the helicopter video as showing the window was closed.
Shelby blamed Crutcher for causing his own death during the eight day trial, testifying she has “no regrets” about what happened. Her attorneys called other police officers who had previous run-ins with Crutcher where he was allegedly “noncompliant” and “defiant,” resulting in a stun gun being used on one occasion.
McMurray elicited groans from the gallery last week when she asked an investigator if a screwdriver found on the center console of Crutcher’s car could be considered a weapon.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said he is “moving forward” after the verdict.
“Tomorrow, I am going to get up and continue to prosecute cases just like I did before,” he told reporters. “Police officers are going to continue to try and protect our community.”
The defense accused Kunzweiler of hurriedly charging Shelby after the shooting and bowing to public and political pressure.
Crutcher’s father, the Rev. Joey Crutcher, told reporters he accepts the verdict but that he believes “Betty Shelby got away with murder.”
“I don’t know what was in the mind of that jury, how they could come to that conclusion,” he said. “There was precise evidence that said she was guilty. I’m going on record to say they did their job, but I’m wondering what they were thinking about.”
Crutcher’s sister, Tiffany Crutcher, told reporters the verdict was a “tough pill” to swallow.
“The facts were there, all the elements of manslaughter were there,” she said. “Terence’s hands were up, Terence was not an imminent threat, Terence did not attack her, Terence did not charge at her, Terence was not the aggressor. Betty Shelby was the aggressor.”
She angrily accused Tulsa police of participating in a cover-up to protect Shelby.
“They walked by my brother to go check on Betty and the last few breaths of my brother’s life, he laid there alone,” she said. “Nobody held his hand, nobody said ‘hey, are you okay?’ He had to lay there alone. These are officers who are paid to serve and protect us.”
Crutcher’s family and supporters complained after the defense rested that their relative and his past transgressions were being put on trial, not Shelby.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin called for calm after the acquittal.
“Those who disagree with the verdict have the right to express their opinions,” she said in a statement. “I just ask that they do so in a peaceful manner. I appeal to Tulsans and others to remain calm. Our thoughts and prayers should be with the Terence Crutcher and Betty Shelby families during this difficult time.”