Bay Area News today on the Trial
- Mehserle trial
Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle won't face the possibility of a first-degree murder conviction for the fatal shooting of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, his trial judge ruled Wednesday.
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Instead, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry said Mehserle, 28, will face charges of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.
Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after he and other officers responded to a report that there was a fight on a train.
But Rains claims the shooting was an accident and Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant.
Testimony in Mehserle's trial concluded on Tuesday, and Rains and prosecutor David Stein will present their closing arguments today. Jurors are expected to begin deliberating Mehserle's fate late today or Friday morning.
Stein had wanted to give jurors the option of convicting Mehserle of first-degree murder, but Perry ruled he didn't present enough evidence to show Mehserle acted with premeditation when he shot Grant.
Rains meanwhile wanted to gamble on only giving jurors the choice of convicting Mehserle of second-degree murder or acquitting him of all charges.
In a brief filed late last week, Rains said voluntary manslaughter shouldn't be an option for jurors because he believes there is no evidence that Mehserle was provoked and acted rashly and in the heat of passion.
He also said there was no evidence Mehserle believed his life was in imminent danger and shot Grant in an act of unreasonable self-defense.
If convicted of second-degree murder, Mehserle would face 15 years to life in prison, plus the possibility of another 25 years if jurors also find that he purposely fired a gun while committing the murder.
The sentence for voluntary manslaughter ranges from 3 to 11 years, and the sentence for involuntary manslaughter is from 2 to 4 years.
Oakland prepares for verdict
As the end of the trial nears, a chorus of community members, business leaders, Oakland police and neighboring law enforcement jurisdictions are calling for peace following a verdict in the case of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle, 28, is charged with murder for fatally shooting Oscar Grant III, a 22-year-old Hayward man, at the Fruitvale station shortly after 2 a.m. on New Year's Day, 2009.
Mehserle's lawyer has admitted his client shot Grant but says he did so accidentally when he meant to stun Grant with his Taser.
The trial is currently underway in Los Angeles, and the verdict could come as early as next week. Jury deliberations are scheduled to begin Friday.
A spokesman for Grant's family said Wednesday that no matter what the verdict, they hope supporters will react loudly but not violently.
"We do not want his name to be tarnished by outbursts of violence that destroy businesses and the community of the people of Oakland," said Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle.
Johnson said the family is appreciative of the nonviolent support from community groups, but they also recognize there are extremist individuals who feel strongly about racial tensions between police and community members and may react in a more hostile manner.
"We have no power over those individuals, but we will not stand with those individuals," he said, adding that the family believes justice can be served through nonviolent means.
The trial was moved out of the county last October by an Alameda Superior Court judge, who noted that because Mehserle is white and Grant was black, the shooting is viewed by many as a case about race relations between police and members of the community.
After Grant's shooting, violent protests erupted in downtown Oakland, and approximately 40 businesses were vandalized, costing an estimated several hundred thousand dollars in damage, according to the Bay Area Council, a group representing regional businesses.
Rev. ElTyna McCree, the owner of Underground Treasurers on 17th Street between Franklin and Harrison streets, said that four businesses on 17th Street closed in the months after the 2009 protests because of the damage they sustained.
The Black Elected Officials and Clergy of the East Bay released an open letter to the community Wednesday calling for peace on the day of the verdict.
"We are asking that you work with us to shut down anyone who would engage in destructive behavior in our community," they wrote in the letter.
The Black Elected Officials and Clergy also said they are prepared to take the case to state and federal agencies "if an unjust verdict is rendered."