Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter

LOS ANGELES — Johannes Mehserle was found guilty Thursday of involuntary manslaughter for killing Oscar Grant III early Jan. 1, 2009, on the Fruitvale BART station platform in Oakland.

The 28-year-old former BART police officer immediately was handcuffed and sent to jail.

The jury of eight women and four men also found Mehserle guilty of a gun enhancement charge that could make him ineligible for probation, give him a strike under the state's Three Strikes Law and add additional years to his sentence, which will be decided next month by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry.

More criminal proceedings could begin against Mehserle after the U.S. Justice Department announced Thursday that its
Civil Rights Division would open an investigation into the killing.

With an involuntary manslaughter charge, Mehserle will face at least two years in prison and a maximum of six years.

But because he used a gun, he could face five to 14 years in state prison.

In addition, Mehserle could be forced to serve 85 percent of his eventual sentence, a much higher standard than the 50 percent most state prisoners serve.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley said the jury's findings showed it did not buy Mehserle's explanation that he meant to use his Taser. Nonetheless, she said, she was disappointed and frustrated by the verdict.

"As you are well aware, we believe that Johannes Mehserle was guilty of the crimeof murder," she said. "We presented the case that way, we presented the evidence that way, and the jury found otherwise. But it is important to note that this jury did not relieve Johannes Mehserle of his criminal liability."

Grant's family also was disappointed with the verdict, quietly wondering in the courtroom if the jury's decision would allow Mehserle to walk away from the crime with a simple sentence of probation.

Outside court, Grant's mother Wanda Johnson said the verdict wasnot just.

"My son was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered. He was murdered," Johnson said as she began to cry. "My son was murdered, and the laws did not hold the officer accountable. God will not fail us or let us down, and I will trust in Him."

Added John Burris, the Grant family's attorney: "The verdict is not a true representation of what happened to Oscar Grant or what the officer's actions were that night."

Meanwhile, Mehserle's family appeared distraught. His father, mother and sister burst into tears as the verdict was read. Mehserle remained emotionless but whispered, "I love you guys," to his family as he was led from the courtroom in handcuffs by two bailiffs.

Emotions also struck at least one juror, No. 10, a Latino woman, who broke down in tears as the verdict was read and then a few seconds later when she was polled about her decision.

Michael Rains, Mehserle's attorney, did not comment after the hearing and did not return phone calls to his cell phone and office.

Members of the majority white jury, which had no black members, also did not make statements about their decision.

Although O'Malley said the verdict proves the jury did not believe Mehserle's explanation for the killing — that he mistakenly pulled out his gun when he meant to use his Taser — other attorneys said the opposite.

"The jury needed to make a decision if they believed that Mehserle was being sincere (when he testified), and I believe that they believed his testimony," said Darryl Stallworth, an Oakland criminal defense attorney and a former Alameda County prosecutor. "If Mehserle's testimony was received by the jury as being sincere and credible, then they did what they were supposed to do."

Although O'Malley said Mehserle, who was born in Germany but raised in Napa, faced a minimum of five years in prison, Stallworth said Perry still has many options when he sentences Mehserle, an officer for less than two years, in Los Angeles on Aug. 6.

Among those options, Stallworth said, was to stay the gun enhancement charge, effectively canceling its impacts on the sentence. Such a decision could lead to Mehserle's receiving probation for the crime.

Perry also could order that the gun enhancement does remain in place but that its penalties run concurrently with the penalty for the involuntary manslaughter conviction. Such a decision would result in Mehserle serving at least three years in prison.

The verdict ends the initial chapter of an unprecedented criminal case that marked the first time a Bay Area police officer was charged with murder for an on-duty shooting.

The case began more than a year ago when Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot Grant in the back as the 22-year-old Hayward man lay facedown on the Fruitvale BART station platform.

The shooting immediately sparked racial tensions in Oakland and led to a few violent protests as many said the killing highlighted a longtime concern of minority communities about police abuse. The case eventually was relocated to Los Angeles because of concerns about security and the heavy media coverage of the killing.

The shooting followed a sometimes chaotic scene at the station, which began with a call from dispatch early Jan. 1, 2009, asking for officers to respond to a fight on a Dublin-bound train.

Videos of the shooting and the events that preceded it and followed it became a crucial piece of evidence in the case. BART police officers' training and the history of police officers mistaking guns for Tasers also played a role in the trial.

Deputy district attorney David Stein argued that Mehserle's training proved he intended to kill Grant. Rains argued that BART's insufficient training on the use of Tasers was the primary reason Mehserle made a mistake.

It was Mehserle himself who provided the trial with its most dramatic and pivotal moment.

During his explanation, which was laced with loud sobs by the defendant and his mother, Mehserle said he never intended to shoot Grant.

"I didn't think I had my gun," Mehserle said last week as his face turned red and his lips started quivering. "I heard the pop. It wasn't very loud. It wasn't like a gunshot. And then I remember thinking, What went wrong with my Taser?

"I remember looking at my gun in my right hand," Mehserle said as he broke down in sobs. "I didn't know what to think. It just shouldn't have been there."

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