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Sentencing nears for ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle-
On Friday morning, one of the final chapters of a tragic high-profile Bay Area story will be written.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge is set to sentence former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle on Friday for the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station platform on January 1, 2009.
The incident was captured on numerous video recorders and disseminated throughout the world. The video sparked widespread protests and rioting throughout Oakland in the days following the shooting. Later, protests broke out in response to the jury’s decision to convict Mehserle of involuntary manslaughter with a weapons enhancement — and acquit him of murder — in June.
Mehserle is white, while Grant was black. The controversy over the killing took on racial overtones and unleashed long-held animosity between city residents and law enforcement.
The former officer, now 28, has been jailed at a Downtown Los Angeles jail since the day the verdict, awaiting sentencing for the crime.
Judge Robert Perry, who presided over the trial, will sentence Mehserle, who could be sentenced to anything from probation to a maximum of 14 years in state prison.
The involuntary manslaughter verdict angered members of Grant’s family and prosecutors, who argued that Mehserle murdered Grant when he drew his firearm and shot the unarmed 23 year-old father once in the back, killing him. Mehserle’s defense contended the action was a mistake and that the former officer meant to Tase Grant when he drew his service weapon instead of the Taser.
The jury agreed, in part, with the defense argument that the shooting was accidental when it came to a verdict of involuntary manslaughter. Legal experts said that the weapons enhancement charge was a compromise solution for the jury.
Dueling public relations campaignsThe families of Grant and Mehserle have undertaken very public and bold steps at soliciting public support before Friday’s scheduled sentencing.
Grant’s family has urged Perry to seek the maximum sentence for Mehserle, a 14-year stint behind bars.
The family has drawn support from the International Longshoreman’s Worker’s Union, whose members shut down operations at the Ports of San Francisco and Oakland for one day in September in a public display in favor of the maximum sentence.
“We want justice,” said Christopher McKay, an International Longshore and Warehouse Union worker. ”We want [Mehserle] to serve his time just like anybody else would serve their time — to the fullest extent of the law.”
The union’s organized community events put together to draw attention to the shooting have the blessing of the Grant family, who said they would be in the courtroom Friday for the sentencing.
Meanwhile, the family of Mehserle is waging its own campaign to urge Perry to go in another direction: being lenient towards the former police officer.
After nearly 18 months of silence from Mehserle and his supporters, friends and family members have initiated an aggressive and highly visible outreach campaign to get “his side of the story” in the public domain.
During the San Francisco Giants’ playoff run, Mehserle’s father, Todd, who sells sailing equipment for yachts, has paraded a large ship with “Free Mehserle” banners during home games in McCovey Cove. The move drew attention — including from the Fox Sports baseball telecasts — to the high profile case and the upcoming sentencing date.
Last week, Mehserle gave his first interview to KTVU Television from the Los Angeles County Jail, telling the television station that he expects to walk out of the court “a free man” on Friday.
”The decision I made was to Tase Mr. Grant, it wasn’t to shoot him, and I know that,” he told Channel 2 reporter Rita Williams.
Sentencing DaySentencing is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles County Superior Court says that the few seats available to the public will be distributed via a lottery held at 8 a.m. outside the courthouse.
In court filings, the former officer’s defense attorney has asked Perry for a new trial, citing a Kentucky case where a police officer whose Taser was configured for a dominant hand cross-draw — just like Mehserle’s, and unlike other gun-Taser confusion cases presented at trial — mistook his gun for his Taser. Perry will rule on that motion before Friday’s sentencing.
The Beat will provide updates on the sentencing from Los Angeles on www.californiabeat.org and on its Twitter page.
The Beat News Service contributed reporting. Contact Steven Luo, Jennifer Courtney and Tashina Manyak at firstname.lastname@example.org.