LOS ANGELES — The fate of the former BART police officer charged with the killing of an unarmed man at Oakland’s Fruitvale station Jan. 1, 2009, is now in the hands of a Los Angeles jury.
The panel of seven women and five men received the case of Johannes Mehserle early Friday afternoon after the end of closing arguments by his defense attorney and an hour-plus rebuttal from deputy district attorney David Stein.
Mehserle, 28, is charged with murder for fatally shooting Oscar Grant III, 22, on the BART station platform as Mehserle and since-fired BART police Officer Anthony Pirone were attempting to handcuff the Hayward man.
Mehserle testified that he wanted to use his Taser because he thought Grant was resisting arrest and might be reaching for a gun, but Mehserle said he pulled his gun by mistake. Friday morning was the last chance for the defense to make that story resonate with jurors.
Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, asked jurors to use common sense while deciding the case. He told them to ask themselves why his client would intend to kill a man he had never met before.
“This man just intentionally draws a gun on a man who is a stranger?” Rains asked quizzically. “Does that make any sense to you? Just forget about the law for a moment and use common sense.”
Rains also used his last chance to address jurors to try to disprove the prosecution’s assertion that Mehserle did not seem distraught after the shooting, which the prosecution says indicates Mehserle willfully shot Grant.
“Sometimes despair takes different forms,” Rains said. “Some people break down and cry, and some people don’t.”
Rains then showed an image of Mehserle hunched over after the shooting, hands on knees. Rains said the shot showed Mehserle was “sick to his stomach.”
“You want to see a sight of despair?” Rains said. “That is a sight of despair.”
During Rains’ closing, Mehserle stared straight ahead, showing no emotion. With the exception of his sobbing on the witness stand, Mehserle showed little emotion during most of the trial.
Rains said Mehserle’s lack of expression showed how deeply he was hurting because of the shooting. He said that it had been hard for his client to come to court every day and relive the case and that Mehserle had to become withdrawn to handle the three-week trial.
“Sometimes you crawl into a cave,” Rains said. “You create a cave for your mind and body. You crawl into a cave and look straight ahead. He’s been in a cave for three weeks.”
Rains ended his closing argument theatrically, holding a model gun and telling jurors they were his client’s “shot at justice” — and the “ringing sound” of that shot was, “Not guilty, not guilty, not guilty!”
Then it was Stein’s final chance to address the jurors. While his rebuttal lasted only a little over an hour, Stein touched on a multitude of subjects — including what he called the biased testimony of the defense’s expert witnesses, as well replaying videos of Grant’s shooting several more times for jurors.
Stein said he respected the defense but said they are dealing with the fundamental problem of too much evidence against Mehserle that they can’t change.
“Defense attorneys have to play the hand they’re dealt,” Stein said. “The defense here can’t change what’s on those videos.”
Stein laughed at the idea of the defense bringing in Michael Schott, a forensic video image analyst, as an expert witness. Schott dissected the videos of Grant’s shooting for Rains.
“When was the last time you needed an expert to tell you what you saw?” Stein said.
“That’s what you have to do when you’ve been dealt the hand they’ve been dealt.”
Stein also reviewed other cases in which officers mistakenly pulled out handguns in the belief that they were Tasers. He pointed out that no other case involved an officer reaching down to the wrong side of his belt to try to pull out a Taser that turned out to be a gun.
“It’s never happened,” said Stein, and then adding, “To this day it’s never happened,” — reinforcing his belief Mehserle acted knowingly.
“It wasn’t an accident. It was an intentional shooting,” he said.
Stein brought his own props for his final argument, bringing out a 2 ½-foot bronze statue of Lady Justice. He reminded jurors the law must be blind and not favor anyone.
“The law’s here to protect all of us,” Stein said passionately. “It doesn’t matter if you’ve been in trouble with the law or if you carry a badge.”
Stein’s closing argument seemed to be aimed at any jurors who may have a problem finding a police officer guilty of murder for a killing that happened while the officer was on duty.
“Police are here to protect and serve all of us,” Stein said, “not just some of us.”
After a brief recess, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry instructed jurors for about 40 minutes — outlining the four possible conclusions they may come to: a conviction on second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter or an acquittal.
Jurors deliberated until 4 p.m. Friday before parting for a three-day weekend. They will reconvene Tuesday morning.
Chris Metinko / The Associated Press