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Another emotional day in courtroom as sides finish presenting evidence

Wanda Johnson speaks with reporters on Tuesday after the judge in the case called a recess when she sobbed uncontrollably during a witness's testimony. (Tashina Manyak / CALIFORNIA BEAT)

(6/29) — 21:15 PDT — LOS ANGELES — Both sides finished presenting evidence Tuesday during a sometimes emotional day of testimony in the murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot unarmed passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009.

A forensic pathologist with the Alameda County Coroner’s Office was the final witness for the defense. Thomas Rogers, who performed the autopsy on Grant’s body, described in graphic detail for jurors the wound that led to his death.

As Rogers used a laser pointer to demonstrate on defense attorney Michael Rains’s body where the bullet would have exited Grant, Jack Bryson, the father of one of Grant’s friends, stood up and walked out of the courtroom.

Later, Grant’s mother Wanda Johnson began to sob uncontrollably, prompting Judge Robert Perry to call a short recess.

Johnson was later transported to a Los Angeles hospital after collapsing outside the courthouse. She has been released and is doing well, according to the Grant family, and is suffering from emotional and physical exhaustion brought on by the trial.

Rogers said the bullet traveled from left to right through Grant’s body, but would not “attach any significance” to that. Rains has argued that Grant’s left shoulder was coming up from the platform when he was shot, and that he was moving when Mehserle shot him.

Earlier in the day, a defense expert on how police officers respond to stressful situations, Minnesota State University Professor William Lewinski, discussed “inattentional blindness,” a phenomenon where someone fails to notice something that should be plainly in sight because he or she is otherwise preoccupied.

In some videos of the shooting, Mehserle appears to be looking at his gun — which is black, unlike his bright yellow Taser — before he fires into Grant’s back. The defense claims that the shooting was an accident and that Mehserle meant to draw his Taser, not his gun.

Lewinski also testified that, in stressful situations, it was more likely that a police officer would accidentally confuse his or her gun and Taser.

Prosecution emphasizes Mehserle never told anyone shooting was accidental

The prosecution, which contends Mehserle intentionally pulled his gun to shoot Grant, presented its rebuttal to the defense case this afternoon.

Deputy District Attorney David Stein brought to the witness stand BART Police Officer Terry Foreman, who said he and Mehserle completed focus training together and were friends, socializing outside of work on occasion.

Foreman testified that he received a call that night saying Mehserle was involved in a shooting and had requested his support.

He arrived at BART headquarters about 4 a.m., and when he went into the interview room, “He started to cry, I started to cry. I told him I was there for him to give him some support.”

Under questioning from Stein, Foreman said Mehserle has never told him it was an accident, nor that he intended to reach for his Taser.

Foreman said that, as a cop for the Pleasant Hill Police Department in the 1990s, he shot someone in self-defense. But Foreman said when he tried to console Mehserle by saying he knew what he was going through, “all the sudden he just started saying ‘it was different, he was going for his pocket, I thought he had a gun.’”

Foreman drove him home that night and called him the next day. “He was crying. He said he couldn’t sleep, that it kept going through his head every time he closed his eyes,” Foreman said.

Under cross examination from Rains, Foreman said Mehserle took his job as an officer seriously.

“I used to make fun of him because he was studying all the time. It was a little joke,” Foreman testified.

“He was a nice young man. He had a lot of potential,” Foreman added. “I never saw him get aggressive.”

Foreman told the court that when he first saw Mehserle in the interview room at BART headquarters, “It was apparent he was crying. When I got there his eyes were red [...] there was just a blank stare on his face like he was looking right through you.”

Mehserle “still had that blank stare,” Foreman said, when he drove his friend to Sacramento to meet with his lawyer several days after the shooting. “I would try to say things to get his mind off of it but he would just say ‘I thought he had a gun’ and break down crying.”

Rains asked Foreman if he ever prompted Mehserle to explain the situation and he said no because he saw his role as being supportive, not trying to interpret what happened.

Foreman said Mehserle would have kept talking in the interview room following the incident, but Foreman “shut him down,” telling him “‘I’m not here for that, I’m here to support you.’”

Earlier, three BART Police officers present the morning of the shooting testified: Officer Emery Knudtson, Patrol Sergeant Edgardo Alvarez and Lt. Kevin Franklin.

Knudtson testified that he heard the gunshot but thought it was a firecracker at first. He said he saw an officer applying pressure to Grant’s wound and said it was only then that he noticed Mehserle.

When he realized Mehserle was the shooter, Knudtson said, “I asked him if he was all right [...] I told him to put his gun in his holster and to ask for the Legal Defense Fund.” Knudtson then went downstairs from the platform to get medical attention.

Stein then asked the officer, “Did the defendant say anything [...] to indicate that he had intended to use his Taser?”

“No,” Knudtson said.

Stein asked Alvarez and Franklin the same question and got the same answer.

Under cross examination from Rains, Knudtson said he was concerned for Mehserle after the shooting. “He looked pretty scared, like he didn’t know what to do,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, Bruce Brock, a veteran Oakland Police officer and Inspector for the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office, testified that, while Mehserle’s Taser weighed 360 grams (about 13 ounces), his gun weighed more than twice as much as his Taser.

Grant supporter sentenced for courtroom outburst

Timothy Killings, the Oakland resident arrested last Friday after shouting a profanity during Mehserle’s testimony, was released from jail last night and sentenced to 18 months probation and a $160 fine for disturbing the peace.

He told the Beat he is still angry Mehserle wept on the witness stand, saying his message to the former BART officer is “If you really wanted to cry, you should have apologized to Oscar Grant’s mom. You killed her son [and you haven't said anything to her] but you’re going to wait until you get on the stand and then start crying?”

Police and other government agencies in both Oakland and Los Angeles are preparing for the verdict amid fears of riots when the decision is handed down. Yesterday, crews worked to remove graffiti from around Lake Merritt which warned of violence should Mehserle not be convicted of murder.

Closing arguments will be held Thursday in Los Angeles, where the case has been moved due to concerns over whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in the Bay Area. The jury could begin its deliberations as early as Thursday afternoon.

The California Beat and The Campanil’s joint continuing coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting trial is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

Beat reporter Tashina Manyak reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

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