Johannes Mehserle, the ex-BART cop who was convicted this summer of involuntary manslaughter for fatally shooting a black man named Oscar Grant in the back, broke a two-year silence and granted his first television interview this week.
Bay Area Fox affiliate KTVU landed an interview with Mehserle, who is awaiting sentencing next Friday from inside a Los Angeles county jail.
Mehserle said the interview was a chance for him to introduce himself to the public. “Over the last couple of years, I haven’t really had a chance to say anything,” Mehserle told Fox reporter Rita Williams. “I know for most people who don’t know me, I’ve been portrayed differently than who I actually am. This is more for the public to see who I am. I’m not asking any sympathy at all.”
For the most part, the interview plays like a tired retread of his trial testimony before the jury this summer, when he shocked the court room by unexpectedly taking the stand in his own defense. Mehserle sticks to his original testimony and says again that he never meant to kill Grant when he pulled his pistol out of his holster and shot Grant in the back while he lay face down on a train platform on New Year’s Day 2009. Mehserle says he meant to pull his Taser, and was just as shocked as everyone else on the platform that he’d just shot a man.
“I noticed that I had shot him. He was yelling and I could see the hole,” said Mehserle. “I was just in complete disbelief. I remember trying to calm him down. He was saying something to the effect of, ‘You shot me.’”
After a pause, Mehserle continued: “And I remember just telling him calm down and I remember I went down and I put pressure on the bullet hole. And then when he started losing consciousness, I knew it was getting worse.”
An emotional Mehserle paused again as his eyes began to tear up at the memory.
“”I was just trying to figure out why did this happen,” said Mehserle.
So certain was he of his innocence that the conviction came as a shock to him. Mehserle said he never thought he’d find himself in jail.
From his interview:
“I didn’t expect to walk through those doors,” said Mehserle. “I didn’t think I’d be convicted at all.”
When asked if he thought that the jury was wrong, Mehserle replied, “I think so, yes, ma’am.”
This is frankly, Mehserle’s strength. Many folks have only been exposed to Mehserle through a grainy, shocking YouTube video in which he shoots an unarmed black man in the back while his colleagues and other young men watch.
But Mehserle’s a young guy with baby cheeks and sloping shoulders and a demeanor that’s entirely non-threatening. He hasn’t got a sharp angle to his face and he’s trained himself to look up at the ceiling between sentences, which he frequently punctuates with “ma’am” and “sir.” He doesn’t fit the classic profile of a brutal cop and he knows it. Mehserle may have been convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a Los Angeles jury, but he’s going to work hard for redemption in the court of public opinion now.
And this isn’t the first time Mehserle’s banked on his soft image to try to win sympathy. The weekend that his jury was deliberating his fate, Mehserle released a letter of remorse that he wrote expressly for the public. Oscar Grant’s family was unmoved by the letter, and immediately called it a ploy.
Mehserle faces anywhere from five to fourteen years behind bars for his involuntary manslaughter conviction and a controversial gun enhancement the jury attached to his conviction. There is a chance Mehserle could receive just probation if the judge throws out the gun enhancement.
Mehserle’s defense filed a motion on October 4 requesting a new trial. Mehserle’s attorneys said they uncovered new evidence about Taser-gun confusion that showed that the prosecution unknowingly misled the jury.