Streetgangs.com Staff Writer
June 14, 2011 | 4:51 p.m.
On Monday just one minute after midnight, Johannes Mehserle, 28, was released from Los Angeles County jail after serving one-year of his 2-year manslaughter sentence. Last July, Mehserle was convicted on involuntary manslaughter when a jury found him guilty in the shooting death of Oscar Grant, 22.
On January 1, 2009, Grant was shot in the back while he was face down on a BART platform by Mehserle who testified that he meant to use his TASER when he accidentally pulled his gun and fired. Grant was unarmed and had his hands behind his back when shot, but there was testimony by defense police experts that suggested Grant was resisting. Most court room observers did not see any evidence that Grant was resisting, but Mehserle testified that Grant was not complying with giving up his hands to be cuffed. Prosecutor David Stein showed that his hand was stuck under the leg of another person, Carlos Reyes, and once his hand was free, he placed them behind his back.
Although Mehserle was the police officer that shot Grant, much could be said about the conduct of officer Anthony Pirone, who was the first to arrive on the platform and confront Grant and his friends. It was revealed during the trial, that Pirone used excessive force, was extremely aggressive, used profanity as soon as he arrived in front of passengers, and was even heard using racist language against Grant and his group. Although he was never charged with a crime, Prione created an extremely hostile atmosphere that had an impact on Mehserle pulling his weapon, accidentally or not, and killing Grant.
The Oakland District Attorney’s office charged Mehserle with 2nd degree murder and the trial was moved from Oakland to Los Angeles. After three weeks of testimony, a jury found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter, the lesser of the three charges he was facing, but the jury also found a gun enhancement to be true. The gun enhancement carried a sentence of 3, 4 or 10-years on top of the sentence for involuntary manslaughter which carries a 2, 3, or 4-year term. Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry, sentenced Mehserle to the minimum term of 2-years, and to the family’s disgust dismissed the gun enhancement. A gun enhancement cannot apply to an involuntary manslaughter verdict, because that conclusion suggests that the jury did believe that Mehserle meant to use his TASER when he shot his gun, and if one believes that it was an accident the gun enhancement does not apply. The gun enhancement can only be true with a 2nd degree or a manslaughter verdict.
Judge Perry stated in court last November during sentencing that there existed a mistake in the jury instructions that he took responsibility for. He further stated that since the jury came back with an involuntary manslaughter verdict, he was going to dismiss the gun enhancement, since he believed the jury accepted the TASER confusion defense which would nullify any gun enhancement.
Although the involuntary manslaughter verdict suggest that the jury believed that Mehserle accidentally fired his gun, the fact that they found the gun enhancement to be true suggests that possibly the jury also believed that Mehserle used his gun deliberately. Since they received unclear instructions from the judge, it is also possible that a compromise among the jury was made to where some jurors wanted to punish Mehserle for a mistake while others wanted to find him responsible for a deliberate act, hence the involuntary manslaughter and gun enhancement together.
Lastly, if Judge Perry provided the jury with the instructions that stated a gun enhancement cannot be true with an involuntary manslaughter verdict, it is quite possible that the jury would have came back with the more serious voluntary manslaughter verdict which carries a sentence of 3 to 11-years in prison. From Mehserle’s perspective he received the best possible sentence short of an acquittal, 2-years with half off for good behavior.