Justified Homicide: The Oscar Grant Verdict

What's the penalty for shooting a man in the back? You got seven months to spare?

Where there is no justice there will be no peace.

There was no justice in the murder of Oscar Grant.  There was even less in the verdict.

LOS ANGELES — Johannes Mehserle will likely serve seven more months in prison for killing Oscar Grant III after a judge’s ruling Friday dismissed a key part of a confusing jury verdict that could have landed the 28-year-old former BART police officer in prison for as long as 14 years.

In making his decision, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry acknowledged that the sentence would anger Grant’s family and possibly much of the Bay Area but said, “I did the best I could with this case.”

Given his opinions about the evidence, and the jury’s verdict of involuntary manslaughter, Perry said that “no reasonable trier of fact could have concluded” that Mehserle intended to use his gun early Jan. 1, 2009.

As a result, Perry said, he was mandated by law to dismiss a jury finding that Mehserle is guilty of a gun enhancement and by doing so he immediately lowered Mehserle’s possible term in prison to four years.

Perry said the evidence presented during the trial was “simply overwhelming” in favor of Mehserle’s claim that he made a mistake in shooting the 22-year-old Hayward man by confusing his gun with his Taser.

But Perry said the four-year term was too harsh for a defendant who, contrary to statements by Grant’s family, has shown remorse. It was also too harsh a penalty for a defendant who did not bear sole responsibility for the crime or for a defendant who does not have a history of violence, Perry said.

“Many people contributed to the tragedy in this case,” Perry said as he listed various figures in the incident, including Grant for fighting on the train and BART for failing to train its officers properly. “I made the ruling because I believe it is in justice to do so.”

Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle, felt otherwise.

“Today we saw the best example of what we already believed,” Johnson said. “It’s a racist criminal justice system. There can be no peace without justice.”

Dr. King once said, “A riot is the language of the unheard” and while the trash can fires and broken car windshields that followed when  protests after the verdict turned ugly were more an exasperated expression of anger than armed insurrection in the streets,  it’ll do barring anything more serious jumping off.

It’s wrong when innocents are harmed and property is damaged. It’s even more wrong when a transit cop shoots a handcuffed and unarmed man in the back while he’s lying on the ground and gets less time than Michael Vick received for killing dogs.

Don’t kill dogs if you don’t want to do time.  America loves dogs.  Kill a Black man instead.  America could care less about them.

Don’t believe me?   Go to New York City and ask the fiance of Sean Bell how wrong I am.  Ask the family of Amadou Diallo or Patrick Dorismond.   Ask anyone who’s buried a loved father, son or brother who “accidentally” ended up on the business end of a cop’s bullet.

If I come off somewhat less than reasonable,  please excuse me.  I’ve heard this song played too many times with slightly different lyrics don’t  like it much.

Don’t riot,” Oscar Grant Sr. said. “Life didn’t stop when my grandson was killed. We have to live here. They could give him 100 years (in prison), and it won’t bring my grandson back.”

I don’t know if  Mehserle meant to kill Grant and neither does anybody else, but I would bet every last dollar I have he will never do two years and by this time next year he will back walking the streets as a free man while Oscar Grant molders away in his casket.

I  looked up how California punishes cases of manslaughter.

Mehserle: seven months for murder.

There are three degrees of manslaughter, which carry different punishments. Voluntary manslaughter is an intentional killing that happened either because of “adequate provocation” or in an unreasonable attempt at self-defense. A voluntary manslaughter conviction carries a sentence of 3 to 11 years in prison. Involuntary manslaughter is an unintentional killing that happened during the commission of a misdemeanor or because of gross negligence (carelessness). Involuntary manslaughter carries a sentence of 2 to 4 years.

The third degree of manslaughter is vehicular manslaughter and since it wasn’t relevant I omitted the specifications, but I do find it interesting the district attorney’s office chose to prosecute Mehserle on the involuntary, instead of voluntary manslaughter charge.

In effect what they decided was Mehserle did not draw his weapon “in an unreasonable attempt at self-defense” but instead was just careless when he shot Grant in the back. So he’s not malicious, just incompetent.

I’m sure that will make Grant’s family feel so much better. I also hope they sue the living shit out of everyone that can be sued. It won’t make things any better but maybe if they have to pay out the ass next time BART will hire cops that aren’t such fuck-ups.

There is no excuse for the rioting.

But a reason? Oh hell yes, there was a reason to riot.

There’s no reason someone too stupid to know the difference between a taser and a gun should be walking around authorized to use lethal force.

There was no way Mehserle was looking at any serious time once he was charged with involuntary, instead of voluntary manslaughter. That little difference of that “in”voluntary was the difference between at least three years and as many as 11 and two years minus time served allowing Mehserle to walk in seven months.

For involuntary manslaughter, in California the average sentence is two-to-four years. Mehserle got the minimum. Had it been Grant with the gun and Mehserle lying dead face-down on the subway floor, he would have received the maximum and probably whatever charges they could hang on his ass like Christmas ornaments.

Because if you’re a White cop and you kill a Black suspect you either walk out of prison early or never walk in. If you’re a Black suspect who kills a White cop you go to prison for the rest of your natural life and die there.

That’s how “justice” works.

January 2009: new president, same old stuff.