OGDEN — The Black Lives Matter Utah chapter is calling attention to the prosecution of an Ogden teenager, contending the shooting death of his best friend was an accident.
Brandon Parker, 17, who is Black, is charged with first-degree murder in the March 14 death of Caden Ferguson, 16.
At a preliminary hearing in April, Patrick Tan, a Weber County prosecutor, said Parker had been drinking brandy, smoking marijuana dabs and ingesting cocaine before the shooting at about 5 a.m.
The two friends were in the home of Parker’s parents in the 300 block of 9th Street, according to testimony.
Parker said he had taken the magazine out of the semiautomatic handgun, pointed the gun at Ferguson’s forehead and pulled the trigger, according to Ogden police detective Andrew Howard. The teen said he did not know a round was still in the chamber.
But Howard testified that evidence at the scene contradicted Parker’s account.
The gun was found on the floor in the next room. It had no magazine but a round was still in the chamber.
“That round in the chamber can only be there if a loaded magazine was in the firearm and another round was loaded into the chamber,” Howard testified.
Police found the magazine, still with bullets in it, near the front door, Howard said.
Lex Scott, Black Lives Matter Utah chapter head, has been building support for Parker on her group’s Facebook page.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Scott said she has been talking to Parker, who is held at the Weber Valley Youth Detention Center in Ogden, and his mother.
The shooting was a tragic accident, not murder, Scott said.
She said there have been cases of “white kids playing with a gun that killed someone and they weren’t charged.”
She also referenced a 2019 Utah County case in which a Black man, Jeremy Sorensen, was shot to death by a white neighbor who intervened as Sorensen was assaulting a woman.
The shooter was exonerated by the county attorney, who judged the shooting was in self-defense.
Scott said Parker and Ferguson, who is white, grew up together and were best friends.
“The gun went off, it was an accident, and they are charging him with murder one,” Scott said. “He doesn’t deserve to go to jail for the rest of his life for an accident.”
She said she spoke to Parker by phone and found him depressed, and frightened that he will be transferred to the Weber County Jail when he turns 18.
Parker is being prosecuted in the adult court system even though he is a juvenile because of the seriousness of the case.
“My job here is to just support his family and try to give Brandon hope,” Scott said.
“I believe what is happening is an injustice,” she said. “I understand a kid died, and Brandon feels horrible about it, but one accident should not destroy two lives.”
Weber County Attorney Chris Allred, asked about Scott’s comments, said of Parker, “I had no idea this person was African American in the first place.”
Allred said that at the preliminary hearing “sufficient evidence was established, that this guy committed the murder, to set the matter for trial, so obviously we think he committed murder.”
“We are in the business of charging people who murder other people,” Allred said.
He added, “I want to be very clear on the fact that Mr. Parker’s race had no impact whatsoever on our charging decision.”
Statistics show that in Utah and elsewhere, minority defendants as a whole have been treated more harshly in the criminal justice system.
Utah Sentencing Commission data showed that 43.2% of people receiving new prison sentences in fiscal year 2017 were racial or ethnic minorities, up from 33.2% in 2015.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, minorities make up about 21% of the Utah population, including 14% Hispanic and 1.1% Black.
Of those given prison sentences in Weber County in fiscal 2017, 48.6% of them were minorities, compared to 37.7% in 2015.
In a 2nd District Court video hearing Wednesday afternoon, Parker appeared for a pretrial conference.
Judge Ernie Jones continued the hearing to Sept. 2 to give defense attorney Randall Marshall time to obtain an expert witness and file any motions.
In addition to the murder charge, Parker faces counts of obstructing justice and theft by receiving a stolen firearm, both second-degree felonies; and third-degree felony possession or use of a firearm by a restricted person.