Tears Flow as the Defense Rests in Mehserle Trial

Tears Flow as the Defense Rests in Mehserle Trial

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LOS ANGELES -- The words of a forensic pathologist concluded 13 days of testimony mounted by lawyers defending former police officer Johannes Mehserle, accused of killing an unarmed man in Oakland, Calif.

Mehserle was an officer with Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) on Jan. 1, 2009, when he shot and killed Oscar Grant on a subway platform.

Dr. Thomas Rogers, with 31 years experience as a forensic pathologist, was wheeled into the courtroom due to recent surgery on his foot.

Defense attorney Michael Rains has argued that Grant, a 22-year old from Hayward, Calif., was actively resisting Mehserle’s attempts to handcuff him. Specifically, Rains says Grant was raising his left shoulder up as he lay on the subway platform, at the time he was shot in the back.

Rogers authored the autopsy document that stated Grant’s cause of death was a gunshot wound to the torso. The entrance wound, just to the left of the center of the back, had an ovoid shape.

Rogers, almost as if he sensed a question coming, said he “doesn’t attach any significance to ovoid … sometimes angles can be determined from entrance wounds and sometimes they cannot.”
The bullet traveled left to right in Grant’s body, puncturing his right lung, and landing in his right breastbone, just above where the right nipple would be located.

At this point, Jack Bryson, the father of two sons who had been with Oscar Grant that morning, left the courtroom. Bryson said later he did not want to hear any more.

The bullet traveled at an approximate angle of 30 to 40 degrees, said Rogers, as Wanda Johnson, Grant’s mother, began to weep quietly.

Rogers noted a reddish abrasion on Grant’s right arm, just above his elbow. A blood pressure cuff was still attached to Grant’s arm when his body arrived at the coroner’s office.

Rains repeated that the abrasion was located on Grant’s right arm, the same arm Mehserle alleges he had difficulty getting a hold of. But Rogers also stated that procedures at the hospital could not be ruled out as a factor for the abrasion.

The doctor also noted Grant had evidence of hemorrhage in the central nervous system. Once he was able to look underneath Grant’s skin, Rogers said, there was evidence of blunt force trauma to the left side of Grant’s head, just above his ear.

It was at this point that Grant’s mother began to weep uncontrollably. Her brother, Cephus “Bobby” Johnson, put his arm around her and held her, as the judge excused the jury for a five-minute break.

She was eventually led out of the courtroom and Rogers continued his testimony.

“No life-saving mechanisms on the platform would have helped Mr. Grant,” he said.

Rains, the defense attorney, produced a chart with a drawing of two bodies, one laying flat, and the other with its left shoulder raised at an angle.

Rains, with the assistance of forensic video image analyst Michael Schott, asserted that Grant’s left shoulder was rising up off the platform at the Fruitvale station.

Rogers said the drawings represented “both scenarios” in terms of an entrance wound. In other words, Grant could have been laying flat or Mehserle could have shot him at an angle.

On cross-examination, Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein asked the witness: “does blunt force trauma (BFT) always result in evidence of BFT?”
The answer was no.
“I can hit my arm,” said Rogers, slapping his forearm. “That’s blunt force trauma but there’d be no evidence of it.”

The defense rested at 10:30 a.m., and the remainder of the day focused on rebuttal testimony with witnesses called by the prosecution.

Stein, the prosecutor, called BART officers Emory Knudtson, Edgardo Alvarez, and Kevin Franklin, who all stated that Mehserle never mentioned to any of them that the shooting of Grant was an accident or that he had meant to pull his Taser instead.

The defense has stated that Mehserle pulled the wrong weapon, and had meant to stun Grant, not shoot him.

The prosecution called a fourth BART officer to the stand.

Terry Foreman, who came to BART via the Pleasant Hill, Calif., police force, had become good friends with Mehserle. Mehserle had asked for Foreman the morning of the shooting when he was taken to BART police headquarters.

Foreman said he received a call around 3:30 a.m. from BART stating that Mehserle had been involved in a shooting and had asked for him.

An hour later Foreman arrived at the station.

“He started crying, I started crying, we hugged,” Foreman said. “I told him I was there for support.”
Foreman would stay with Mehserle at headquarters through the next morning, after word came of Grant’s death, and would drive Mehserle home. He also said he called Mehserle afterwards to check up on him and, days later, drove him to Sacramento to speak with his attorney.

Stein asked Foreman whether at any time during their time at BART police headquarters, in the days that followed, or during the drive to Sacramento, Mehserle said anything to suggest his shooting of Grant was an accident or that he meant to draw his Taser instead.

“No,” Foreman replied. He added that Mehserle tried to tell him, “I thought he was going for a gun,” but Foreman would cut him off.

Foreman also called one of his BART commanders asking him to check in on Mehserle. Foreman said Mehserle seemed distraught and not doing well.

“He would say, out of nowhere, ‘I thought he had a gun,’ and start crying,” Foreman said.
Closing arguments in the trial will begin the morning of July 1.

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