Mehserle trial closing arguments to continue Friday

July 1, 2010 6:35:21 PM PDT
The lawyer defending former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle began giving his closing statement Thursday afternoon. Michael Rains told a Los Angeles jury they must acquit Mehserle of all crimes related to the shooting death of BART passenger Oscar Grant.

The prosecution and the defense spent hours making their final arguments to the jury that will now decide the former BART officer's fate.

"Your duty is not to render a verdict that is some sort of commentary on the state of relations between the police and the community in this country," Rains told the jury. The defense attorney went on to tell the panel that prosecutor David Stein left out one major phrase in his closing argument. Rains reminded the jury prosecutors "have to prove this case beyond a reasonable doubt and if they haven't, let's pack our bags and go home."

The defense says forensics evidence shows the bullet passed through Grant's body at an angle, and that means he had his shoulder raised in resistance when he was shot.

"How could he possibly be guilty of murder if he's intending to fire, not a dangerous firearm, but a Taser?," he said.

Earlier, Stein made his closing argument. "It can never be lawful to shoot an unarmed man when that unarmed man is lying face down and is in the process of putting his hands behind his back," Stein told the jury.

To support his argument, Stein showed jurors still frames from amateur video of the 22-year-old Grant putting his hands behind his back and reminded jurors that 12 witnesses testified that Grant did not resist BART officers.

Stein told the jury Mehserle "was trying to justify it [shooting Grant], but the situation shows it was an intentional act. He did not say, 'I meant to pull my Taser.'"

The district attorney says Mehserle lost control, that his emotions got the best of him and he intentionally shot Grant. The proof being Mehserle's statement to officers after the shooting, "I thought he was going for a gun."

Even if jurors accept Mehserle's defense assertion that the former officer mistook his gun for his Taser, Stein told jurors that does not excuse Mehserle from criminal liability.

The defense says Meherle was just following the poor training he received at BART and that he meant to fire the Taser. Their proof being Mehserle's statement to officer Tony Pirone seconds before the shooting when he said, "Hey Tony, I'm going to tase him."

But it wasn't just the arguments they differed on, legal analysts inside the courtroom noted that Rains fiery style overshadowed the district attorney's mild manner.

"I think the prosecutor is trying to be very matter of fact, very straightforward, present the law and his evidence," said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson. "He'll have another shot at that jury, and when he does so in rebuttal, you might see more fire in his belly."

Grant's family is confident they will get justice.

"We trust and believe the verdict that is supposed to come will be second-degree murder," said Grant's uncle, Cephus Johnson.

On Wednesday, Judge Robert Perry ruled that jurors will not be able to consider convicting Mehserle of first-degree murder. However, Perry will allow them to consider all lesser offenses, which are second-degree murder, manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter.

The district attorney is expected to make his rebuttal Friday morning after Rains concludes his arguments.


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