Mehserle Sentence Expected Today
This image provided by the Los Angeles County Superior Court shows a cell phone image taken, according to lawyers, by Oscar Grant, of former San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle shortly before Mehserle shot Grant on New Ye
San Francisco Chronicle via YellowBrix
November 05, 2010
SAN FRANCISCO — Those seeking the maximum punishment of 14 years for former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle may be disappointed when a judge hands down his sentence today.
Mehserle, who fatally shot Oscar Grant III during an arrest at BART’s Fruitvale station in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009, could walk free from a Los Angeles courtroom today with mere probation or be sentenced to more than a decade behind bars.
Four months ago, a Los Angeles jury convicted Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter, a crime that carries a sentence of two to four years. The jury also handed down an enhancement of using a gun that could add up to 10 more years to the sentence.
The verdict, some legal experts say, sends mixed signals about his guilt.
The problem, according to legal experts such as defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who has been following the trial but is not involved, is that while involuntary manslaughter signals that Mehserle did not intend to kill Grant, the gun enhancement indicates just the opposite.
The conflicting verdict is unprecedented, and Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry will be making a decision that will be scrutinized by an appeals court, said Peter Keane, dean of the Golden Gate University School of Law.
“I can’t see how a judge could sentence [Mehserle] for the gun use,” Keane said. “I think it would be reversed on appeal if he did, and when you have that basic kind of conflict, the law requires you to rule in favor of the accused.”
The judge also has to rule whether Mehserle deserves a new trial because of issues with his defense. After being convicted, Mehserle’s defense team claimed new information regarding the use of Tasers by law officials had surfaced. Mehserle’s lawyers had argued that he intended to use a stun gun but instead accidentally shot Grant. If granted a new trial, Mehserle cannot be tried for anything more than involuntary manslaughter.
And, to add to the complicated set of scenarios, the judge could suspend Mehserle’s prison sentence or opt to keep him in county jail instead of state prison. The two years Mehserle has spent in jail during the trial and awaiting sentencing will be credited toward any sentence.
Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, has argued that his client should only be placed on probation because he has no prior criminal record, no record of violence, and doesn’t represent a serious danger to society. But prosecutor David Stein said that because of the circumstances of the fatal shooting, prison is the only just punishment.
Experts say it will be somewhere in the middle.
“If neither side is happy, then it’s done right,” said Cardoza. “That means you’ve reached a medium.”