Former BART Cop Breaks Down on the Stand

Emotional breakdown, arrest interrupt trial Friday

By Jessica Greene
|  Friday, Jun 25, 2010  |  Updated 4:32 PM PDT
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Oscar Grant's Mom Not Moved by Mesherle's Tears

Johannes Mehserle has pleaded not guilty to murdering 22-year-old Oscar Grant. While he does not deny shooting Grant, he says it was an accident.

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Oscar Grant's Mom Not Moved by Mesherle's Tears

The mother of a man slain by a BART officer says her son's killer knew what he was doing.
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An emotional breakdown and arrest interrupted the murder trial of former BART officer Johannes Mehserle Friday as he took the stand in his own defense for a second day.

Mehserle, has said he mistakenly pulled out his pistol instead of a stun gun when he shot and killed Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man who was lying face down on an Oakland train platform last year.

While Mehserle was on the stand, his attorney began waving a blue plastic gun that gun at him that looked like a mold of his own handgun. Mehserle broke down crying, as did family members of both sides in the courtroom. Then, a spectator stood up and screamed an expletive at Mehserle, telling him to save his tears.

Cops arrested that man, identified as Timothy Killings, and the judge called for a five-minute break and made it clear that he wouldn't stand for another outburst, NBC reporter Jinah Kim said.

The emotional breakdown came as Mehserle answered a series of questions posed by his attorney, Michael Rains, recounting the events of that night and detailing the very last moments of Oscar Grant's life. Mehserle testified that Grant yelled, "You shot me!" after that single fatal shot.

He told jurors that he heard a pop and thought the Taser had malfunctioned.

"I remember the pop that wasn't very loud. It wasn't like a gunshot. I remember wondering what went wrong with the Taser." Mehserle said. "I thought it malfunctioned."

Mehserle's face grew red, his voice dropped and he tried to hold back tears as he testified. Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, left the courtroom as the defendant cried. That's when Killings stood up and yelled at Johnson, "Save those f***ing tears," prompting the commotion.

Here's a brief look at part of Mehserle's testimony:

Mehserle: "I was telling him (Grant) calm down, calm down. 'You'll be okay.' When he started moving around, I was thinking this was good. Good. Good."
Rains: "How was Grant?"
Mehserle: "He was hysterical. I remember him starting to close his eyes and I remember trying to talk to him to keep his eyes open."
Rains: "Did they stay open?"
Mehserle: "No, they closed. I remember being scared because this wasn't supposed to happen.  I remember putting pressure on the hole because I didn't know what else to do."

Mehserle told the jury that he searched Grant's body after he shot him but didn't find a gun.

"I remember looking down at my hands and I had blood on my hands," Mehserle said. Then he told the jury, "I didn't intend to shoot Mr. Grant." He told the jury his intent was to "tase him."

Rains asked Mehserle why he would use the Taser that night. "It was the only option that crossed my mind." Mehserle said."The thought of my gun never entered my head." He told the jury he didn't use the baton or pepper spray because they had Tasers.

Mehserle's testimony marks the first time he's spoken publicly about the shooting early New Year's day 2009.

The trial was moved from Alameda County because of intense media coverage and racial tensions.

In a surprise move Thursday, Mehserle took the stand and told jurors that the training he received didn't emphasize the possibility of mistaking his stun gun with his handgun. But that's what his lawyer claims happened when Mehserle pulled out his .40-caliber handgun and shot Grant.

The prosecution on Thursday also released a crucial photo that Grant took with his own cell phone that fateful night. Prosecutors say it shows Mehserle with his hand on the Taser, proving he knew the difference between his handgun and the stun gun.

Witnesses say Mehserle smiled at jurors, told them he was a new dad and didn't want to work the night of the shooting because it was the same day his pregnant girlfriend had been put on bedrest. Legal analyst Steven Clark says that new dad aspect is an important one to drive home to the jury.

"He's got to come across as young father, someone who made a mistake, someone who jurors can identify with -- not just as police officer. That human factor is key." Clark said. "If this was a tragic mistake, he needs to apologize for it and come across as human to the jury. They need to get to know Mehserle."

Clark says it's important that Mehserle's testimony doesn't come across as rehearsed, and that body language is key to convincing jurors to believe his story.

Legal experts say while defendants in criminal trials rarely take the stand, his testimony could be compelling for jurors.

On questioning by defense lawyer Michael Rains, the brawny, 6-foot-4 Mehserle said he received Taser training in December 2008 and had only pulled it out once while on duty in the month before the shooting. He said his former employer didn't put much weight on possible "confusion issues" where officers should place the Taser holster, only that the weapon wasn't to be put under their issued handgun.

"They left it up to us to figure it out," said Mehserle, who spoke in a calm, soft voice. "For me it wasn't that big of a deal."

Prosecutors say Mehserle intended to shoot Grant, and that Mehserle used his handgun because officers were losing control of the situation. Mehserle wore his stun gun on the front left side the night of the shooting, while his handgun was mounted on his right hip.

On the stand, Mehserle did say when he arrived with his partner to the train station in response to a possible fight, that he could hear yelling and screaming from the platform above. "I remember it being real loud," Mehserle said. "I didn't know if officers were involved in the fight or the crowd had turned on them. It didn't sound good."

He added he intercepted a few men who he said were approaching two fellow officers that had detained Grant and several friends against a concrete wall. He said the men, who turned out to be more of Grant's friends, were taunting the BART officers.

"I just instructed them to get back," Mehserle said.

The trial adjourned late Thursday before Mehserle could give details about the shooting.

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