Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe.
By: Charlie Foster and Pendarvis Harshaw
The judge in the trial of a former transit cop accused of murdering a 22-year-old passenger in Oakland said he worries that at times his rulings have been misrepresented by Bay Area media outlets. The comments follow other displays of concern by a Los Angeles courtroom that is carefully considering how the trial will play out in the community where the video-recorded shooting occurred.
The trial, which was moved from Alameda County to L.A. because of extensive local media coverage of the shooting and several large, sometimes violent, protests that followed it, has already been the source of rumors and speculation that a verdict could lead to rioting in Oakland. Business owners in the city's downtown neighborhood have been preparing this week for a repeat of the storefront vandalism that happened during last year's protests.
Judge Robert Perry said Wednesday afternoon that he was frustrated that rulings he had made in court that morning - a series of motions determining which charges the jury may consider -- had not been reported accurately.
"Already, media in the Bay Area are reporting that the court dropped all murder charges," Perry said. "That's far from the determination."
In reality, Perry ruled that jurors may convict former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle of second-degree murder, voluntary manslaughter or involuntary manslaughter, or they may acquit him. (See below for a full description of the jury's options.) The ruling also removed first-degree murder as an option, because the prosecution had not provided evidence that Mehserle acted with premeditation when he shot and killed Oscar Grant on a BART platform on Jan. 1, 2009.
Many Bay Area media outlets focused on the first-degree murder decision.
"Breaking News: Judge in Mehserle case rules out first-degree murder verdict," was the headline on the San Francisco Examiner's website, minutes after the morning hearing let out.
During the afternoon hearing, Judge Perry explained that by eliminating a first-degree murder conviction, he had reduced the possible maximum sentence by ten years, from 50 years to 40. Mehserle also faces an additional 25 years in prison if jurors find that he intentionally fired his gun.
"The defendant [Mehserle] faces major charges," Perry told a handful of press and court staff. He said he was aware of the major impact the trial was having on Oakland's community.
Perry held the afternoon hearing to consider whether King Anyi Howell, a freelance reporter for Youth Radio, should be held in contempt of court for charging a wireless modem in a courtroom wall outlet Monday. Howell's charges were dropped and he was given permission to return to the court on Thursday to continue covering the trial.
The public information officer for the Los Angeles County Superior Court has said that reporters for Bay Area outlets get priority seating in the courtroom.
Perry will instruct the jury on Friday to deliberate on the three possible charges and the not guilty verdict. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, he will give jurrors two theories to consider for each crime:
Second-degree murder theories: 1) Mehserle unlawfully intended to kill Oscar Grant. 2) He intentionally committed an inherently dangerous act, while knowing it was dangerous and acting with conscious disregard for human life.
Voluntary manslaughter theories: 1) Mehserle killed Grant in the heat of passion. 2) He acted in "imperfect self-defense," based on an actual but unreasonable belief that he needed to use lethal force.
Involuntary manslaughter theories: 1) Mehserle committed a lawful act but with "criminal negligence." 2) He committed a crime - using excessive force on Grant by deciding to shock him with a Taser - that was not in itself potentially lethal, but became so because of the manner in which it was committed.
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