Mehserle trial deliberations delayed again

July 7, 2010 11:24:00 PM PDT
There was yet another delay with the jury in the BART shooting trial Wednesday as the court dealt with a replacement juror and a doctor's appointment.

The jury deliberated for 2.5 hours Wednesday and Friday for a total of just five hours over four weekdays, on whether to convict or acquit former BART officer Johannes Mehserle for shooting Oscar Grant.

On Wednesday morning, they were told by the judge that they needed to start over after a vacationing juror was replaced by a female alternate. The new makeup of the jury includes four white women, three white men, three Latino women, one Asian Pacific female and one male who declined to state his race.

Judge Robert Perry also revealed that two hours into the first day of deliberations on Friday, the jury sent a question to the court asking, "Can this provocation come from other sources other than the suspect(s)?" They basically asked whether Mehserle could be found guilty of voluntary manslaughter if someone other than Oscar Grant provoked him to kill in the heat of passion.

Exactly who that someone might be, the judge and the lawyers could not agree. Could it have been, as the prosecution alleged, Officer Tony Pirone's aggressive behavior on the platform that inflamed the scene? Could it have been Grant's friends, as the defense charged? Or, maybe it could have been the loud, angry BART passengers on the train.

Judge Perry did not answer the question and also asked the new jury not to consider it. Nonetheless, ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says the question could be a big hint.

"I think the most we can say is that the jury has not yet accepted Mehserle's version of the facts. They may accept it later," he says.

Mehserle's version of the facts are that he meant to draw his Taser and not his handgun. He claims the shooting was an accident.

In the meantime, Grant's family expressed frustration about all the delays and the latest replacement of a juror.

"The sad note is that we were sure the judge was fully aware that this juror, especially the one that happened to have to leave for vacation, was going to be leaving at this time period," said Grant's uncle Cephus Johnson. "And, I guess based on his assumption, he figured this was going to be an easy case and thereby the jurors would have an easy decision to make and bring back a verdict before the holiday weekend. And, as we're standing here, it is after the holiday weekend and yet we are still having issues concerning the jurors."

The jury was slated to deliberate only until around 11:45 a.m. Wednesday because one juror had to go to a medical appointment. The first order of business was to select a foreperson then move on to the business of deciding whether Mehserle is guilty of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter, involuntary manslaughter, or nothing at all.

"I think the delays do hurt because the more delays there are, the longer this takes, the more frustration the jurors feel and the more they feel pressured to come to a quick decision," Johnson said. "This is not a case that deserves a quick decision. It deserves their very careful consideration because a man's life is at stake here."

The judge cautioned the court Wednesday not to read too much into the jury questions because there is no real way of knowing exactly where they came from. With this particular question, there is even the possibility that it may have come from the juror who was excused for a vacation. He is no longer on the panel, so if that was the case the question would be completely moot.

Deliberations are scheduled to resume Thursday morning.

San Francisco is taking steps to try and diffuse any tension in the Mehserle case. On Wednesday and Thursday, from noon to 6 p.m., leaders are holding an event called "Be Heard, Teach Peace."

The public is being allowed to write messages about the trial on large banners. Hot dogs and sodas will be given away.

Wednesday's event will be held at the Ella Hill Hutch Community Center at 1050 McCallister Street. Thursday's event will be at Visitacion Valley Middle School at 450 Raymond Avenue.


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