No verdict Wednesday in Mehserle trial

Jurors' day ends early, after less than three hours of deliberation

By Demian Bulwa,
San Francisco Chronicle

LOS ANGELES — Jurors in the murder trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle began deliberations from scratch Wednesday with a new member, but did not reach a verdict before their day was cut short.

A juror had to attend a medical appointment in the afternoon, so the jury deliberated for less than three hours - from just after 9 a.m. to about 11:45 a.m. The panel is scheduled to reconvene at 9 a.m. today.

Deliberations began Friday. However, they were suspended Tuesday after a different juror called in sick.

Still another juror left for a vacation Wednesday - a commitment that attorneys and Judge Robert Perry knew about before he was seated. He was replaced by one of three remaining alternate jurors in a random drawing, and deliberations started anew.

Also Wednesday, the judge revealed that one or more jurors submitted a written question Friday afternoon, just two hours into the original deliberations.

The question referred to one of two theories of voluntary manslaughter, that of a killing committed in the heat of passion.

Jurors have been instructed that they can find Mehserle guilty of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter in the killing of unarmed train rider Oscar Grant, or acquit him of all charges.

The question asked whether a person could be found guilty of a heat-of-passion killing if he was provoked by "sources other than the suspects."

Alameda County prosecutor David Stein argued during the trial that Mehserle, who shot Grant while trying to handcuff him in the wake of a fight on a train, had been influenced in part by another former BART officer, Anthony Pirone, who aggressively detained Grant and ordered Mehserle to arrest him at the Fruitvale Station in Oakland early Jan. 1, 2009.

Seconds before Grant was shot, Pirone shouted profanities and a racial slur at Grant.

The defense, meanwhile, argued that Mehserle had been influenced by other train riders on a loud and chaotic platform, including riders who were upset at Pirone's actions.

On Wednesday, Stein argued that the jury should be able to consider other sources of provocation besides Grant. Defense attorney Michael Rains disagreed.

The judge sided with Stein - saying a defendant's passion could be inflamed by any "emotion that obscures judgment" - but decided he would not answer the question immediately, considering that deliberations had started over. He said he would answer the question if it is asked again.

The exchange during the brief court hearing suggested that Stein sees voluntary manslaughter as a favorable outcome, while the defense does not.

Stein said during the trial that Mehserle, 28, "lost all control" of his emotions and shot the 22-year-old Grant intentionally in the back after briefly trying to handcuff him. Grant was on his chest.

Mehserle testified that he had decided to use his Taser because he saw Grant put his right hand in his pants pocket and believed Grant 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.

The case was moved to Los Angeles because of extensive publicity in the Bay Area and because of the possibility that tensions raised by the shooting of Grant, who was African American, by the white police officer could affect jurors.

The new composition of the Los Angeles jury is as follows: Seven people identified themselves as white, three identified themselves as Latino and one identified herself as Asian. One juror has declined to state a race or ethnicity.

Copyright 2010 San Francisco Chronicle

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