Ex-BART Officer Guilty Of Involuntary Manslaughter
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
A former transit policeman from Northern California has just been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing an unarmed man. Twenty-eight-year-old Johannes Mehserle was charged with shooting 22-year-old Oscar Grant in the back, while Grant was being detained on an Oakland train platform. The case has been racially charged. Mehserle is white, Grant was black, and the trial was moved to Los Angeles where the verdict came down a short time ago.
NPR's Richard Gonzales is in L.A., and he joins us now.
And, Richard, Oscar Grant's family has been calling for a murder conviction. They didn't get that. It was involuntary manslaughter. What was the reaction when the jury came down with their decision?
RICHARD GONZALES: It was a very tense and dramatic moment in the courtroom. I haven't seen as much security in the courtroom in quite a while. The family was very disappointed. They made that clear in statements after the verdict was read. They say that they expected better. They hoped to get a second-degree murder charge, but they also think that this is a minor victory in a sense because it's very rare that a police officer is convicted of killing someone in the line of duty. They got the conviction on involuntary manslaughter but not the murder conviction they were hoping for.
BLOCK: Now, the defendant, Mehserle, testified that the shooting was a mistake. Why don't you check through the evidence that apparently convinced the jury to steer clear of a murder conviction?
GONZALES: Mehserle took the stand during this trial and, well, was sobbing when he said it was a mistake, that he intended to go for his taser when he actually shot Grant. Perhaps the jury - because we don't know - because the jury has not spoken yet - perhaps the jury was convinced by the fact that just before shooting Grant, Mehserle said I'm going to tase him. Instead of reaching for his taser, instead he pulled out his handgun and shot Grant.
BLOCK: Now, the shooting was on New Year's Day in 2009. It was videotaped, and that tape was widely distributed. Soon after, there were violent protests in Oakland. Concern also that this verdict today might prompt more problems, right?
GONZALES: Everyone in Oakland is concerned about that. There's going to be a demonstration this evening in Oakland. The family of Oscar Grant has said: We hope that there won't be any more violence, that there won't be any more stores vandalized, and no one else is hurt. And certainly, as they put it, one life taken, in this case, is enough.
BLOCK: And, Richard, with this conviction on involuntary manslaughter, what might the sentence be?
GONZALES: The sentence for involuntary manslaughter could be two, three or four years in state prison. There's also a gun enhancement charge because Mehserle used a gun in commission of a crime, and that could carry up to six additional years.
BLOCK: Okay, Richard, thanks very much.
GONZALES: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's NPR's Richard Gonzales, reporting from Los Angeles. That's where a former transit policeman from Oakland, California, has just been found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man, Oscar Grant.
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