Convicted BART Shooting Officer Denied Bail For Appeal
LOS ANGELES (CBS 5 / AP / BCN) ― A Los Angeles judge denied bail Friday afternoon for a former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer sentenced to two years in prison for fatally shooting an unarmed man in Oakland last year.
Twenty-eight-old Johannes Mehserle sought to be released pending an appeal of his involuntary manslaughter conviction.
But L.A. Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled Mehserle must remain imprisoned while his appeal is pending, saying that he didn’t think any of the arguments made by the defense met the legal standard for freeing Mehserle.
Perry also said he thought it was very unlikely that the jury’s verdict would be thrown out.
Mehserle was sentenced last month in the Jan. 1, 2009 shooting of 22-year old Oscar Grant III of Hayward during a disturbance on a BART train platform in Oakland’s Fruitvale station.
The trial was moved to Los Angeles because of intense media coverage and racial tensions in the Bay Area. Mehserle is white; Grant was black.
Mehserle was convicted of a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter, rather than the murder charge sought by prosecutors. He has remained jailed since the jury’s July 8th verdict, which sparked a large protest in downtown Oakland.
With credit for time served, Mehserle could be eligible for release in about seven months.
In court papers filed this week, defense attorney Michael L. Rains argued that Mehserle would likely finish his two-year prison term before the state’s 1st Appellate District can deal with his case.
“If Mehserle serves out his short sentence before the appeal — which is certain to take more than a year given the size of the record and the complexity of the issues to be presented — he will be utterly deprived of any meaningful right to appeal, which is guaranteed by the state and federal constitutions,” Mehserle’s lawyer wrote in a five-page filing.
Alameda County prosecutors had opposed the defense’s request. In their Nov. 24 court filing, prosecutors wrote that there was “ample evidence” to support the jury’s verdict.
John Burris, an attorney and spokesperson for Grant’s family, said he was “pleasantly surprised” that Judge Perry denied bail to Mehserle.
He said he had thought that Perry might allow Mehserle to go free on bail “given his previous ruling giving Mehserle a short sentence.”
Burris, who represents Grant’s mother in a lawsuit against BART, Mehserle and other officers, said the U.S. Department of Justice is still investigating whether to bring federal charges against Mehserle for the fatal shooting.
Rachel Jackson of the Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant said the group had planned to organize a protest if Mehserle were released on bail.
Instead, Jackson and a group of about 15 other people gathered at 14th Street and Broadway in downtown Oakland to comment on Perry’s ruling.
Jackson said the decision “is a bittersweet victory but an important one because even though Mehserle is only getting a minimal sentence, this is an important first step in holding police officers accountable.”
Mehserle admitted during his trial that he shot and killed Grant but testified that it was an accident because he had meant to fire his Taser stun gun but fired one shot from his handgun by mistake.
“I remember the pop,” the ex-transit officer told jurors. “It wasn’t very loud. It wasn’t like a gunshot — and I remember thinking the (Taser) had malfunctioned.”
Mehserle testified June 25th that he looked down and “saw I had my gun in my hand” and that “it shouldn’t have been there.”
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