Family Urges Maximum Sentence in California Transit Shooting

LOS ANGELES -- The family of an unarmed black man who was fatally shot by a white transit officer urged a judge Friday to impose the maximum sentence for involuntary manslaughter.

Four relatives of victim Oscar Grant and his fiancee pleaded with Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry to order now-former officer Johannes Mehserle to prison for 14 years.

Wanda Johnson, Grant's mother, cried as she gave a victim impact statement.

"I live every day of my life in pain," she said. "My son is not here because of a careless action."

The family continues to maintain that it was murder when Mehserle shot Grant on an Oakland train platform on New Year's Day 2009. Mehserle was a Bay Area Rapid Transit officer responding to a report of a fight.

Mehserle, shackled and wearing a jail jumpsuit, also stood before the judge and apologized for the shooting, which he contended was accidental and not racially motivated.

"I want to say how deeply sorry I am," Mehserle said. "Nothing I ever say or do will heal the wound. I will always be sorry for taking Mr. Grant from them."

He also cried during portions of his 10-minute statement.

Earlier, the judge said he had received more than 1,000 letters urging a harsh sentence.

Perry read some of the letters in a packed courtroom where he was considering a request for a new trial for Mehserle. If he denies the motion, Perry is expected to sentence the 28-year-old defendant, who faces anywhere from probation to 14 years in prison.

Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in July for shooting Grant, 22. Mehserle has said he mistakenly pulled his handgun instead his Taser when he shot Grant as he lay face down.

Perry read more than a dozen letters for and against Mehserle, noting that some details were "flat-out wrong." Perry cited one letter that inaccurately described Grant as handcuffed when he was shot. Letters in support of the former officer stated that racial tensions had blown the case out of proportion.

Perry also noted another letter asked him to enact changes in law enforcement policy -- a request the judge said he was powerless to oblige.

The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of intense media coverage and violence that followed the shooting.

The case has drawn comparisons to the infamous 1991 Rodney King beating by Los Angeles police officers.

Oakland police said they are prepared in case there is a replay of the rioting that followed the shooting.

Experts said Judge Perry probably already knows what sentence he will impose, but the pleas made by both sides will not go unnoticed.

"Those statements can be very persuasive and my sense is you will see some very emotional testimony from both sides in that courtroom," said Steven Clark, a San Francisco Bay area defense attorney and former prosecutor who has followed the case.

The involuntary manslaughter conviction has a sentencing range of two to four years. In addition, Perry must decide sentencing for a gun enhancement that jurors found to be true that carries a term of three, four or 10 years.

State law also allows Perry to grant Mehserle probation under unusual circumstances.