Inside the courtroom, as a jury decides Mearkle is not guilty

Written by Ben Allen, General Assignment Reporter | Nov 6, 2015 4:05 AM

(Harrisburg) -- A Dauphin County jury has acquitted a Hummelstown police officer of murder and manslaughter charges in the death of a 59-year-old man.

Much of the case hinged on a video shot by Officer Lisa Mearkle during her fatal encounter with David Kassick.

Inside the courtroom, it was almost somber as supporters of both sides filed into the courtroom, shortly after 2:30 yesterday afternoon.

On one side sat David Kassick's friends and family.

On the other, Lisa Mearkle's husband was surrounded by law enforcement officers wearing black ribbons, along with her friends and family.

A handful of Dauphin County sheriffs stood between them.

Judge Deborah Curcillo ordered everyone to remain quiet as the verdict was read.

In the silent and still courtroom, a jury member stood up.

What was the jury's decision on third degree murder?

Not guilty.

On involuntary manslaughter?

Not guilty.

On voluntary manslaughter?

Not guilty.

Lisa Mearkle began to cry.

Through the tears, she mouths "Thank you" to herself.

She says Yes, Yes.


Photo by Ben Allen/witf

Lisa Mearkle stands with her husband (left), and her lawyers (right) after a jury acquitted her of all three charges in the death of 57-year-old David Kassick, who was unarmed when he ran from a traffic stop in February.

She hugs her lawyer.

"I'm relieved that the justice system actually worked. And I'm relieved and happy that I'm going to be able to get my life back to normal like it was before," says Mearkle.

Across the aisle, Dauphin County Chief Deputy District Attorney John Baer has no expression.

Some people on both sides tear up or dab at their reddening eyes.

And that's it.

The video

One of the key pieces of evidence in the trial was a video that starts when Mearkle begins shocking Kassick with her stun gun.

In a yard, Mearkle repeatedly yells to Kassick, lying facedown on the snow, to show his hands.

They are mostly visible, but at times, they drift out of view.

Less than a minute into the video, she shoots him with her handgun.

She continues to order Kassick to show his hands, as she stays about ten feet away from him.

Then, a little over a minute later, Kassick breathes for what sounds like one last time.

Kevin Fetters is David Kassick's nephew.

"I mean, it really hit me when he was laying on the ground and you can see him taking his last breath. I never thought it was going to happen."

The case involving a law enforcement officer is one of just a few in the U.S. this year.

According to the Washington Post, of the 834 fatal police shootings nationwide in 2015, only five officers have faced criminal charges.


Photo by Ben Allen/witf

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico speaks to the media after a jury found Hummelstown police officer Lisa Mearkle not guilty of murder and two counts of manslaughter in the death of David Kassick.

Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico acknowledges the bias that many may carry.

"It's difficult, the public generally and jurors in particular I think give the benefit of the doubt to a police officer. Cops have tough jobs and they're out there protecting us on a daily basis, and so I think the general public feels that way."

Despite those challenges, Marsico says he would bring a similar case in the future.

Mearkle's defense

Mearkle's defense attorney Brian Perry may have anticipated just how the jurors would think.

From his opening statement to closing argument, he tried to capitalize on the trust many put in police.

He harped on how someone would react in the moment, not how they would behave knowing all the facts.

He says the video helped his case.

"I called it sensory overload, and it is. But you have to watch his actions because remember, this incident didn't happen over 41 seconds. It started at the square in Hummelstown and it escalated, and a reasonable, veteran police officer, it was reasonable for her to conclude he was reaching for a weapon."

Perry says he second-guesses police decisions all the time - but not in this situation.

As for Officer Lisa Mearkle, when asked what she would say to the Kassick family if she had the chance, she tried to get her composure.

"I wish it didn't happen. I truly wish it didn't happen and I want them to know that.

I never wanted to shoot anybody."

Now, she says she wants to return to the Hummelstown Police Department.

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