A jury asked a judge about provocation during its deliberations in the racially charged trial of a former San Francisco Bay area transit officer accused of murder in the shooting of an unarmed black man on an Oakland train platform, officials said Wednesday.
The disclosure came as the jury started talks anew after a male juror who had a vacation commitment was replaced by a female alternate. None of the current jurors have stated their race as black.
The reconstituted panel, now comprised of eight women and four men, went home before noon Wednesday after nearly three hours of deliberations because another juror had a doctor's appointment.
Former officer Johannes Mehserle, 28, who is white, has pleaded not guilty in the shooting of 22-year-old Oscar Grant when officers responded to a fight at the train station.
Mehserle claimed he mistakenly pulled his handgun instead of a Taser during the incident on New Year's Day 2009 that was videotaped by bystanders. The trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of racial tensions and intense media coverage.
The case went to the jury Friday, when the panel posed its first question relating to a possible conviction for voluntary manslaughter. The question made public Wednesday sought clarification on whether provocation can come from sources other than suspects.
To convict Mehserle of voluntary manslaughter, jurors must determine he acted in the heat of the moment or he had an unreasonable belief he needed to use lethal force.
Jury instructions noted that members must consider if the provocation was sufficient and how another police officer would have reacted in the same situation knowing the same facts.
Jurors also have the option to convict Mehserle of second-degree murder or involuntary manslaughter.
Grant and several of his friends were being detained by Bay Area Rapid Transit police officers. Moments before Grant was shot, three other friends were seen on videos approaching officers.
Prosecutor David Stein suggested during trial that Mehserle may have been affected by the actions of another former officer who was described by witnesses as being the most hostile and aggressive toward Grant.