Closing arguments slated in Calif. train shooting trial

By Greg Risling, AP
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Closing arguments set in CA train shooting trial

LOS ANGELES — Closing arguments began Thursday in the trial of a former San Francisco Bay area transit police officer accused of murdering an unarmed black man in an altercation on a train platform.

Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein told jurors defendant Johannes Mehserle intended to kill 22-year-old Oscar Grant in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009.

Stein pointed to testimony by two other officers who said Mehserle told them he thought Grant was going for a gun.

“The defendant’s desire to punish, to belittle, and to mistreat … resulted in the death of an innocent person,” Stein said. “For that he must be held liable.”

Mehserle, who is white, claims he mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of a Taser. He resigned from the Bay Area Rapid Transit police force after the shooting.

After arguments by both sides, the jury will begin deliberating whether Mehserle should be found guilty of murder or lesser offenses such as manslaughter.

Mehserle had been on the train platform for 2½ minutes before he shot Grant, who was lying face down on his stomach.

The trial has been tinged with racial overtures because Mehserle is white and Grant was black. Although a fellow officer was heard on a video taken by a train passenger uttering a slur at Grant before the shooting, there’s been no evidence presented that Mehserle’s actions were influenced by prejudice.

Mehserle, 28, has pleaded not guilty to murder. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of excessive media coverage and tensions that boiled over into violence in Oakland.

Mehserle testified last week he mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of his Taser stun gun. Prosecutors have argued Mehserle used his handgun because officers were losing control of the situation.

On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Perry said jury instructions will include second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter as options for a possible conviction.

Perry said there wasn’t enough evidence to justify a conviction for first-degree murder.

Defense attorney Michael Rains has said the jury should only be given two choices — second-degree murder or acquittal.

Second-degree murder is defined as an intentional killing that isn’t premeditated or planned, or a killing caused by dangerous conduct and a defendant’s lack of concern for human life.

Perry said a jury should sort out to what degree, if any, Mehserle should be held accountable. He conceded though that the jury may have troubles with the choices given to them.

“Whenever there is a question, instruct,” Perry said. “The only downside from a trial perspective is confusion. There is a strong potential for confusion for jurors.”

Rains said prosecutors hadn’t shown that Mehserle intentionally killed Grant or that his client was fueled by anger in pulling his gun.

“Everything in this case points to an accident,” Rains said.

will not be displayed