Mehserle Found Guilty of Involuntary Manslaughter
LOS ANGELES (KCBS) A Los Angeles jury on Thursday afternoon found former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter with enhancement of a gun, which will carry a sentence of between five and 14 years in state prison.
Mehserle was on trial for his role in the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, who was shot and killed at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year’s Day 2009.
A sentencing hearing has been set for August 6.
The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of racial tension and extensive media coverage in Oakland.
Thursday’s verdict followed a three-week trial in which prosecutors played videos by bystanders, and witnesses recounted hearing the frightening gunshot that killed Grant.
The 28-year-old Mehserle testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at the train station.
Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser, but instead pulled his .40-caliber handgun and shot and killed him.
The jury was given a choice between second-degree murder and lesser charges of voluntary and involuntary manslaughter.
Thursday marked the first full day of deliberations since the jury was handed the case last Friday and they came to their decision shortly after 2 p.m.
Grant Family Reacts to Verdict
After the verdict was read, Oscar Grant’s family reacted with both anger and disappointment.
His mother, Wanda Johnson was shocked by the decision.[pullquote quote="My son was murdered, he was murdered, he was murdered." credit="Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant"]
“My son was murdered, he was murdered, he was murdered,” she said. “And the law has not held the officer accountable the way that he should be held accountable.”
She also said that “this battle is not over.”
Grant’s uncle, Cephus Johnson said the family does not blame the jury for the verdict, but rather the system.
“We as a family have been slapped in the face by a system that has denied us true justice,” Johnson said.
He also expressed surprise at how quickly the jury delivered the verdict.
John Burris, the attorney for Grant’s family, also expressed his disappointment and said the family was hoping for Mehserle to be found guilty of second-degree murder.
He said the verdict essentially implies that the fatal shooting was a “negligent act.”
The U.S. Justice Department issued a statement Thursday evening saying its civil rights division, the U.S. attorney’s office and the FBI “have an open investigation into the fatal shooting and, at the conclusion of the state prosecution, will conduct an independent review of the facts and circumstances to determine whether the evidence warrants federal prosecution.”
Oakland Officials Disappointed by Verdict
Meanwhile, Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley expressed her disappointment and frustration as well with the involuntary manslaughter verdict.
“This was not the verdict we sought, but we respect the process of the jury system,” she said.
O’Malley said although it wasn’t the outcome they were looking for, the jury’s finding means that the panel believed Mehserle “was acting with criminal negligence and acting recklessly and intentionally using his gun.”
Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums agreed with the opinion of Grant’s family and said he will support a federal civil rights prosecution.
“The journey to justice does not necessarily have to end here,” said Dellums. “You do have the federal government, you do have the attorney general, you do have the civil rights division. So, the journey to justice does not have to end here.”
Now that the trial is over, both Dellums and O’Malley said they hope that there will be a citywide dialogue that will lead to better relations between citizens and law enforcement.