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BART officer Mehserle to be sentenced Friday in fatal shooting

November 5, 2010 |  7:50 am

A former transit police officer convicted of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting an unarmed man on an Oakland train station platform will be sentenced Friday by a Los Angeles judge.

Johannes Mehserle, 28, contended that he mistakenly used his firearm instead of an electric Taser weapon when he shot Oscar J. Grant III in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2009.

But prosecutors argued at his trial that Mehserle meant to reach for his handgun as he tried to handcuff an unresisting Grant, who was laying face-down on the platform floor.

Grainy video footage captured by several witnesses shows Mehserle, who is white, firing one round into the back of Grant, who was black. The racially charged case sparked rioting in Oakland soon after the shooting and again in July, when a Los Angeles jury acquitted Mehserle of murder but found him guilty of a lesser crime.

The trial was moved to downtown Los Angeles amid concern about the extensive media coverage of the killing in the Bay Area. Mehserle, whose manslaughter conviction included a gun enhancement that increased his possible sentence, faced up to 14 years in prison.

During the trial, an Alameda County prosecutor argued that Mehserle intentionally shot Grant, who had been detained with several friends following reports of a fight on a train stopped at the Fruitvale Station. The officer's holster was specially designed to prevent easy release of his firearm.

And the prosecutor contrasted the light, bright yellow Taser gun with the heavier black Sig Sauer handgun that Mehserle fired. In tearful testimony, Mehserle said he intended to use his Taser because he believed Grant might be reaching for a gun in his pants pocket.

--Jack Leonard

Photo: Wanda Johnson, the mother of Oscar Grant, arrives at Los Angeles Criminal Courts to attend sentencing of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle Friday morning. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times