Opening statements in Mehserle trial

June 10, 2010 6:29:45 PM PDT
A former BART police officer is on trial in Los Angeles for murder. Opening statements as well as testimony began on Thursday. The prosecution tried to paint a picture of a cop who deliberately killed. The defense told the jury former officer Johannes Mehserle, 28, did not intend to fire a bullet into the victim's back.

During the opening statements, meant to be broad outlines of each side, some interesting details emerged. For instance, in the two and a half minutes Mehserle was on the BART platform, he twice drew his Taser and then put it back, before he pulled his gun and shot Oscar Grant.

Mehserle "chose" to pull his gun and shoot Grant in the back. That's according to Alameda County Prosecutor David Stein, who delivered his opening statement. "He got up off Mr. Grant, stepped back and while holding his gun with both hands, fired the fatal shot into Mr. Grant's back," Stein told the jury of eight women and four men.

Stein showed several amateur videos to the jury, taken of Grant's shooting and the events that led up to it early New Year's Day 2009. Step by step, Stein meticulously went through the events, which began with a train operator calling BART police dispatch to report there was a fight on her train. What happens next, according to Stein, is relative calm on the platform turned into chaos. Stein contends it was BART police, including Mehserle, who turned things deadly.

"Mr. Grant wasn't resisting, he was in the process of putting his hands behind his back," Stein told the jury.

Grant was among four friends who were pulled aside by police. Early on, the video shows Grant and his friends cooperating, their hands in the air, as they're seated leaning against a concrete wall. But within minutes, BART officer Anthony Pirone starts getting rough with the detainees.

Mehserle is shown arriving, and then on a picture taken by Grant himself, holding a Taser as the officers try to regain control of the situation. At one point, the video shows Mehserle putting away his Taser and a few minutes later, drawing his gun on Grant as the 22-year-old lay face down on the platform. Then as Mehserle stands up, he fires.

Stein closed his statement with a freeze frame of Mehserle, looking down at his holster, just before he pulls his gun seconds before Grant was shot, as evidence he knew exactly what he was doing.

Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, sobbed as the video of her son's shooting was shown several times.

"My son has taken that picture, letting us know, and letting me know, 'Mama, I wasn't doing anything,'" said Johnson outside the courtroom.

"It is clear that the jury is wise enough to see in the video that it speaks for itself and they don't need an interpreter," said Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson.

Mehserle's defense attorney Michael Rains argued the second-year officer mistook his gun for his Taser. Rains said Mehserle's mistake came only as a reaction to Grant's continued resistance to being handcuffed. Rains also argued that Mehserle's Taser training was very limited and that may have contributed to the shooting.

After the shooting Rains told the jury the video shows Mehserle putting his hands to his head.

"He realizes he just shot a man who didn't deserve to be shot, who he did not intend to shoot," says Rains.

After opening statements, the prosecution began calling witnesses, including one BART rider who shot some of the video that the public has seen. Margarita Carazo told the jury that she began filming the scene on the BART platform because she told the jury she thought what was happening to Grant and his friends was "wrong."

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