Irven Box, the former attorney for an Oklahoma City pharmacist convicted of murder, said his ex-client is likely feeding his current appeals lawyer inaccurate information prompting that attorney, Doug Friesen, to suggest Box's representation was incompetent and unethical.
The battle between defense attorneys heated up earlier this week, when Friesen said Box never told Jerome Ersland that prosecutors had offered a plea deal that could have resulted in a significantly reduced prison sentence. In a Sunday news conference, Friesen also said that Box hadn't spent more than two hours going over the facts of the case with Ersland prior to the 2011 trial.
A jury convicted Ersland of first-degree murder and sentenced him to life in prison for the May 19, 2009, shooting death of Antwun Parker. Ersland, a pharmacist, had shot the 16-year-old Parker once in the head when Parker and another boy, Jevontai Ingram, tried robbing the south Oklahoma City pharmacy where Ersland worked.
Caught on black-and-white surveillance video, Ersland then chased Ingram out of the store before he returned, stepped over Parker and retrieved another gun from a drawer. Ersland then fired five more shots into Parker, killing the youth.
The case became a flash point over questions of whether Ersland had been justified. The pharmacist appeared on The O’Reilly Factor on Fox News and drew the support of many who argued that Oklahoma County District Attorney David Prater’s prosecution was unfair.
Friesen, who took up Ersland's appeal earlier this year, said Box's inadequate defense work is a key component of his efforts to overturn the conviction.
“The more I unravel this case, the more I see that Irven Box's work consisted of nothing but inexcusable errors,” Friesen said. “Box's motivation for not telling Jerome of a potential plea offer violated Box's moral duty and ethical duty to Jerome, particularly when Jerome's freedom was at stake. Jerome is spending the rest of his life in prison and should not be.”
‘Not telling the truth’
But Box dismisses Ersland's allegations as flat-out wrong. The attorney said he believes Ersland is likely telling Friesen incorrect information.
“Jerome, I'm sure, is not telling the truth about any of these things,” Box told Oklahoma Gazette. “One of the biggest problems we had in defending him was that Jerome had told so many different stories over a period of time. He would talk to anyone and he would tell so many different stories. I'm sure he's telling Friesen what he wants to hear, but it's not true.”
Investigators found a number of inconsistencies in Ersland’s account of what happened, including his contention that he had been shot in the arm by Parker before the fatal gunshots.
As for the suggestion that client and counselor had not sufficiently communicated, Box said Ersland was at his office or his son's law office every Thursday for upward of a year.
Box said Ersland knew that the district attorney had twice offered a plea agreement. According to Box, Prater offered a deal if Ersland would plead to a lesser charge such as manslaughter or second-degree murder. Box said his client twice rejected the offer because he still would have had to serve 85 percent of the sentence.
“I took that to Jerome and he said, 'No, I'd lose my [pharmaceutical] license. I'd be dead,'” Box said. “He said he wouldn't take any [prison] time.”
Prater was unavailable for comment.
Friesen has accused Box of other missteps, calling it “alarming” that the defense had not called upon forensics and crime-scene experts at trial to refute allegations that Parker was motionless, and therefore, not a threat, when Ersland shot him five more times.
Box said finding such experts was unnecessary. He said Ersland's chief argument was self-defense, and that surveillance video of the incident spoke for itself.
“As far as recreation [of the crime scene], I think that what we saw and what the police reported was what occurred,” said Box. “Jerome kept saying he got shot and shots were fired at him. Well, that was not going to work because the video showed there weren't any shots fired from the gun. It just wasn't true.”