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Appeals court upholds conviction in BART shooting case

By Paul T. Rosynsky and Howard Mintz, San Jose Mercury News –

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A California appeals court on Friday upheld the involuntary manslaughter conviction of a former BART police officer in the controversial shooting death of a passenger during a confrontation on an Oakland BART platform in 2009.

In a unanimous decision, the 1st District Court of Appeal affirmed the judgment against Johannes Mehserle, convicted of shooting Oscar Grant III at the Fruitvale BART station in an incident that sparked an outcry throughout the Bay Area.

Mehserle, originally charged with murder in the case, was sentenced to two years in prison and has already served his time. The appeals court rejected all of his legal arguments, including allegations there was insufficient evidence to support the conviction and that the judge did not properly instruct the jury.

“That is good news; we are happy to know that it has been upheld,” said Cephus Johnson, Grant’s uncle. “Hopefully, the system will work all the way through because I am sure the defense will appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Mehserle’s attorney, Michael Rains, could not be reached for immediate comment Friday afternoon. But an attorney that represented Rains’ office during the appeals said they would take the matter to the state Supreme Court if they lost.

During arguments in the appeal, that attorney, Dylan Schaffer, argued that the Los Angeles judge who presided over the murder trial should have allowed defense attorneys to present evidence showing that another officer in Kentucky had made a similar mistake as Mehserle.

Mehserle testified during his trial that he was trying to use his Taser against Grant but mistook his gun for the Taser and shot the 22-year-old instead.

Schaffer also argued that jury instructions were erroneous and that a conviction of involuntary manslaughter against a peace officer who made a mistake was setting a bad precedent.

Schaffer argued that Mehserle was not acting recklessly but that he simply made a mistake.

The court did not agree.

“This court is not blind to the stress and danger of police service, but neither can we ignore established California law of involuntary manslaughter,” wrote James J. Marchiano, the presiding judge. “We conclude there is sufficient evidence from which the jury could legitimately have found that defendant acted with the requisite criminal negligence to support his conviction for involuntary manslaughter.”

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