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Mehserle jurors have several options to consider

July 2, 2010 7:33:14 PM PDT
The fate of Johannes Mehserle is now in the hands of a jury. Jurors began deliberating the case of the former BART police officer on trial for murder for shooting BART passenger Oscar Grant last year. The jury was given a television to replay all of the amateur videos of the shooting that took place at the Fruitvale BART station.

When Mehserle fatally shot Grant was it murder? Manslaughter? Or no crime at all? Those are the questions a Los Angeles jury will grapple with as they begin deliberations.

"There's a lot of potential for confusion," says ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson who believes the jury is dealing with some very complex issues. "The decision by the jury is going to come down to splitting hairs between what is implied malice, what's criminal negligence, whether there was a reckless disregard for human life or a conscious disregard for human life. Those are very tough questions."

Judge Robert Perry instructed the jury on three separate crimes: second-degree murder, manslaughter, and involuntary manslaughter. Second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter both require the specific intent to kill. Involuntary manslaughter requires criminal negligence or recklessness.

"The defense stood up and said, 'You know what? This was about the mistaken use of a Taser,'" says Laurie Levenson, a professor at Loyola Law School and a former federal prosecutor. "Ultimately it may come down to a fairly simple decision. Which side do they believe? Do they believe the prosecution when they say he knew he was pulling his gun, he shot, he was with a bunch of officers who were mad and they were punishing the victim? Or, do they believe the defense when the defense says, terrible mistake, he thought he had his Taser, unfortunately it was his gun."

The jury began deliberating after receiving instructions from the judge, including one that explains when a killing is excusable, under the law.

"One of the instructions the jury is going to hear is the legal standard for what we call excusable homicide, or in this case an accident," says Johnson. "And that's in so many words, the core of the defense."

Throughout their deliberations the judge urged the jurors to weigh Mehserle's actions when Grant was killed against those of a "reasonable officer" given the same set of circumstances.

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