LOS ANGELES--Judge Robert Perry of Los Angeles County Superior Court this morning expressed his concern that jurors may have received confusing instructions in applying a gun enhancement charge when reaching their verdict in the trial former BART cop Johannes Mehserle.
Perry is about to announce a sentence for Mehserle, who was convicted last July of involuntary manslaughter in the shooting death of Oakland resident Oscar Grant, 22, early on New Year's Day 2009.
The judge heard two defense motion: one for a new trial and a separate motion to dismiss the gun-enhancement charge imposed by the jury. The involuntary manslaughter conviction carries a maximum of four years in prison, while the gun enhancement charge could add another 10 years to the sentence.
The defense argued that jurors were not told that a gun enhancement could only be applied if they believed that Mehserle used the weapon with intent. Perry said he was troubled that jurors may have been confused and incorrectly applied that enhancement.
He also signaled that he was unlikely to grant a new trial. The defense argued that new evidence--a previous case of an officer who used a Taser instead of his gun--would have been valuable evidence on Mehserle's behalf. But Perry said there had been sufficient evidence for the defense's case and was inclined not to allow their motion.
The hearings are taking place before a packed LA courtroom, where the trial was moved in response to defense requests. Tension is high inside the courhouse and outside, where dozens of pro-Grant protestors gathered to await the sentence announcement after victim statements are heard and all discussion of motions are completed.
Reporting from Los Angeles by Thandisizwe Chimurenga and Jennifer Courtney