The Johannes Mehserle sentencing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. Friday at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center in Los Angeles. Mehserle, a former BART police officer, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for shooting and killing 22-year-old Oscar Grant on a BART station platform on Jan 1, 2009. Mehserle said the shooting was an accident caused by the mistaken use of his gun instead of his Taser. The incident was captured on video and distributed via the web throughout the world. Judge Robert Perry has the option of sentencing Mehserle to anything from probation to 14 years in prison.

Video of the incident

The length of the sentence may hinge on the judge’s sorting out of a somewhat muddled verdict by the jury. The Chronicle reports:

As the defense points out in asking for a lenient sentence, jurors acquitted Mehserle of murder and voluntary manslaughter, both of which require an intent to kill.

Prosecutors seeking a longer prison term say that although jurors found that Mehserle did not intend to kill Grant, they did conclude that he intended to shoot him.

Jurors signaled that when they convicted Mehserle of a gun enhancement, the prosecution says, (it was) a charge that required the panel to find that the defendant fired a gun on purpose.

Defense attorneys say it is not possible that the jury found that Mehserle intended to shoot Grant from a distance of just a few feet, but not kill him. Their conclusion: The jury believed that the shooting was an accident but misapplied the gun enhancement.

As the sentencing has neared, both Grant and Mehserle families have launched “dueling public relations campaigns,” as California Beat writes:

Grant’s family has urged Perry to seek the maximum sentence for Mehserle, a 14-year stint behind bars. The family has drawn support from the International Longshoreman’s Worker’s Union, whose members shut down operations at the Ports of San Francisco and Oakland for one day in September in a public display in favor of the maximum sentence…

Meanwhile, the family of Mehserle is waging its own campaign to urge Perry to go in another direction: being lenient towards the former police officer.

After nearly 18 months of silence from Mehserle and his supporters, friends and family members have initiated an aggressive and highly visible outreach campaign to get “his side of the story” in the public domain.

This yacht has made regular appearances at McCovey Cove outside AT&T Park drawing attention to the Johannes Mehserle sentencing date.

During the San Francisco Giants’ playoff run, Mehserle’s father, Todd, who sells sailing equipment for yachts, has paraded a large ship with “Free Mehserle” banners during home games in McCovey Cove. The move drew attention — including from the Fox Sports baseball telecasts — to the high profile case and the upcoming sentencing date.

Last week, Mehersle himself gave an emotional interview from prison to Rita Williams of KTVU-TV, giving his account of what happened when he shot Grant.

Watch the broadcast interview, as well as raw footage from the conversation.

Today on KQED’s Forum, Cephus Johnson, Oscar Grant’s uncle, said that although Mehserle has publically expressed remorse, he has not done so to the Grant family. (Statement occurs around 7:30 of the show).

On Thursday, Oakland North published an intimate look at Oscar Grant’s family, including photos. On the opposite side of the debate, you can view letters from those who know Mehserle and issued testimonials on his behalf, taken from the Court’s web site.

Oakland community leaders and city officials are now preparing for any unrest that occurs after the sentencing. From Oakland North:

This time, organizers of a series of eight, city-wide civic leadership events are training peacekeepers to avert potentially violent situations after the Mehserle sentencing by talking to protesters and allowing them to express their concerns. These peacekeepers include local residents, faith leaders, activists, students, parents, and members of Grant’s family dedicated to deescalating violence….

Peacekeepers will be organized in teams of five or more on the day of the Mehserle sentencing. Each team will have a captain with a walkie-talkie and who will stay in communication with a central team leader, who in turn is to stay in touch with an Oakland Police Department (OPD) liaison. OPD public information officer Holly Joshi said that on Friday the department will have extra officers from both its own department and outside agencies on hand in case they are needed. “We are not anticipating anything negative happening and are prepared to facilitate a peaceful protest,” Joshi said. “We understand that the community feels strongly about this tragic event and absolutely want to respect their right to free speech and assembly. We will not, however, tolerate any violence or destruction of businesses or personal property.

The Coalition for Justice for Oscar Grant is planning a “day to Honor Oscar Grant”form 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. tomorrow outside Oakland City Hall.

We’ll be covering the story here and on-air tomorrow when the sentence is announced.

Author

Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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