California Jury Deliberates Transit Shooting; Police Prepare for Protests

Oakland, Calif. on edge in case of transit cop charged with murder.

ByABC News
July 5, 2010, 11:48 AM

July 5,2010— -- With jury deliberations set to resume Tuesday in the trial of a white transit police officer accused of killing an unarmed black man in Oakland, California, police in Oakland and Los Angeles were bracing for demonstrations in the racially-charged case.

The victim, Oscar Grant, 22, was among a group of revelers returning from San Francisco on New Year's night 2009 who were involved in a fight on a BART train. A fight broke out after Grant and members of his group were pulled off the train at Oakland's Fruitvale station. Grant was on his stomach when former transit cop Johannes Mehserle pulled out his gun and shot him in the back.

A jury in Los Angeles, where the trial was moved because of extensive media coverage, will decide whether Mehserle, 28, should be sent to prison. Legal experts called the case the most racially polarizing trial in the state since four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted in 1992 in the famed Rodney King beating.

Mehserle was charged with first-degree murder in the killing, but a judge removed that option last week and ruled the jury could consider second-degree murder, lesser manslaughter charges or no guilty conviction at all.

When the trial ended Friday, the prosecutor asked a Los Angeles County jury to do what no local jury had done in nearly 30 years: convict a police officer of murder in an on-duty police shooting.

"I think there is a very strong chance that he'll be convicted of involuntary manslaughter, which is kind of a compromise verdict between murder and acquittal," Jonathan Masur, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, told "At least the jury will view it as a compromise verdict. I'm not sure that the people in Oakland who are upset would be satisfied with involuntary manslaughter."

The shooting sparked violent street protests in Oakland, where Grant – a young father from Hayward, Calif., who had been recently released from jail – was seen as a symbol of long-simmering tensions between minorities and law enforcement. He became a martyr of sorts, his image plastered on buildings and storefront windows across the city.