UPDATE 4:05pm ET After an emotional day of tearful testimony from both Oscar Grant’s relatives and Johannes Mehserle, Judge Robert Perry handed Mehserle simple probation, and a two-year prison sentence. Mehserle has already served 146 days in jail.
The AP reported that Mehserle gave a ten-minute statement expressing his remorse for Grant’s killing. “I want to say how deeply sorry I am,” the AP reported. “Nothing I ever say or do will heal the wound. I will always be sorry for taking Mr. Grant from them.”
After a long summer spent in Los Angeles County Jail, ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle is back in Judge Robert Perry’s courtroom today to receive his sentence for killing Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009. A Los Angeles jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter with a gun enhancement charge this summer, and faces up to 14 years in prison.
Amanda Fuentes, Thandisizwe Chimurenga and Jennifer Courtney report for Bay Citizen that this morning Judge Perry read from a stack of the 1,000 letters he said he received urging him to give Mehserle the maximum sentence. San Jose Mercury News’ Paul Rosynsky reported that Perry was dismayed that many of the people who wrote to him urged him to give Mehserle the harshest jail term but seemed unfamiliar with the legal terminology. No matter what Oscar Grant’s family and outraged community members believe their son was murdered, Perry insisted that what Mehserle was convicted of was involuntary manslaughter, an unlawful but unintentional killing.
The Bay Citizen reports that Perry seemed unlikely to grant Mehserle a new trial, as his defense had requested in early October. Mehserle’s defense demanded a new trial based on new evidence they said they uncovered that showed that Taser-gun confusion had indeed happened in the past, contrary to the prosecution’s arguments. Mehserle’s defense relied on a two-prong narrative that Oscar Grant and his friends represented a dangerous threat to Mehserle on the train platform, and also that Mehserle accidentally pulled his gun when he meant to pull his Taser.
Judge Perry also discussed other post-trial controversies surrounding the jury’s controversial verdict. The jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter and attached a gun enhancement to their charge.
In their jury instructions, jurors were told:
If you find the defendant guilty of the crime of second degree murder or the lesser crimes of voluntary or involuntary manslaughter, you must then decide whether the People have proved the additional allegation that the defendant personally used a firearm during the commission of that crime.
Judge Perry’s jury instructions told the jury that a person intentionally used their firearm if they displayed their weapon “in a menacing manner,” hit someone with the gun or fired it. The conviction then says that Mehserle was guilty of a an accidental killing, but that he knowingly pulled out his gun.
However, today Perry seemed receptive to the defense’s motion to throw out the controversial gun enhancement charge, which could tack on an extra ten-year jail sentence jail sentence to the involuntary manslaughter conviction. Involuntary manslaughter alone carries a two, three, or four year sentence. Legal experts suggested that if Perry does not throw out the gun enhancement, he could allow Mehserle to serve his time for both concurrently. Should Perry throw out the gun enhancement, Mehserle could also receive probation.
In deciding Mehserle’s jail term, Perry is expected to weigh victim impact statements, of which the organized community response is one part. Perry also heard testimony from Sophina Mesa, Grant’s fiancee and the mother of their six-year-old daughter as well as Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson.
The trial was moved from the Bay Area to Los Angeles because the defense was worried about the intense local community interest. Oscar Grant’s killing, which was caught on multiple cell phone cameras and immediately uploaded on YouTube, outraged the community and led to several nights of large protests in the Bay Area.
Mehserle shot Grant in the back while Grant lay face down on a train platform. He and his friends had been pulled off the BART train for allegedly starting a fight, and several were in the process of being handcuffed when Mehserle pulled his pistol out of its holster and shot Grant.
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