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Oscar Grant's killer sentenced to 2 years - achali - 11-05-2010 04:19 PM

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Mehserle sentenced to 2 years

A judge sentenced former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle today to two years in state prison for fatally shooting unarmed train rider Oscar Grant during a video-recorded arrest in Oakland on Jan. 1, 2009.

A jury in Los Angeles County, where the trial was moved, found Mehserle guilty of involuntary manslaughter in July, acquitting him of the more serious charges of murder and voluntary manslaughter. Mehserle testified that he killed Grant accidentally, after mistaking his service pistol and his Taser.

The verdict meant that jurors concluded that Mehserle, 28, did not intend to kill Grant, 22, when he shot him in the back at Fruitvale Station, but acted negligently and took his life unlawfully. The jury also found that Mehserle, a Napa County resident, had used a gun during the crime.

Today, Judge Robert Perry gave Mehserle two years for the involuntary manslaughter conviction, the shortest term possible, and threw out the gun enhancement, saying it was not supported by the evidence.

With credit for time he has already served behind bars, Mehserle will be eligible for release in about a year.

Mehserle's possible sentence for involuntary manslaughter was two, three or four years, plus three, four or 10 years for the gun enhancement. The defense pushed for Mehserle's release on probation, which state law allows in involuntary manslaughter cases that are considered unusual.

The two sides had disagreed on what the jury signaled with its verdict. The defense said jurors showed they believed Mehserle's "Taser confusion" story when they rejected murder and voluntary manslaughter, both of which require an intent to kill.

Prosecutors disagreed. They said jurors had found that Mehserle did not intend to kill Grant, but that he had meant to shoot him. The gun enhancement, prosecutors noted, required the panel to find that Mehserle had fired a gun on purpose.

Defense attorneys believe the jury misapplied the gun enhancement after it was poorly explained to them.

During trial, prosecutor David Stein said Mehserle had "lost all control" of his emotions before the shooting. The defense said he had made a mistake under pressure and cast blame on poor training at BART - particularly on the agency's Taser training, which Mehserle received a month before the shooting - and on the character of Grant, who had spent time in prison.

Grant had been detained at about 2 a.m. that New Year's Day, along with four friends, for fighting on a Dublin-Pleasanton train. Within minutes, Mehserle's then-colleague on the BART force, Anthony Pirone, reported that Grant had resisted him and ordered his arrest. Stein argued that the arrest itself was unlawful because Grant had cooperated.

Mehserle then moved to handcuff Grant as he lay on his chest, but struggled to pull back the Hayward man's right arm before standing up and pulling out his pistol.

Taking the stand near the end of the trial, Mehserle testified that he had decided to use his Taser because he saw Grant put his right hand in his pants pocket and believed he might be reaching for a gun.

Mehserle said he had accidentally pulled out his pistol and fired a single shot before realizing he had grabbed the wrong weapon.

Mehserle's shooting of Grant was witnessed by scores of New Year's revelers, several of whom recorded it on cell-phone cameras.

The trial was moved to Los Angeles in an effort to find impartial jurors. In the Bay Area, many community leaders, activists and others saw the shooting as a window into a larger problem of police officers abusing people of color with little accountability. Mehserle is white, while Grant was black.

The sentencing is not the final word on Grant's deathThe U.S. Justice Department has said that its civil rights division, along with the U.S. attorney's office and the FBI, will investigate the shooting "to determine whether the evidence warrants federal prosecution."

Pirone and his partner the night of the shooting, Marysol Domenici, were fired earlier this year by BART - Pirone for his actions on the train platform and Domenici for the way she reported the incident to investigators. Their appeals are pending.

BART agreed in January to pay $1.5 million in a civil settlement to Grant's daughter, Tatiana Grant, who is now 6. But Grant's mother, along with several of his friends who were with him when he was shot, still have pending lawsuits that may go to trial.