Change of Venue Debated in BART Shooting Case

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OAKLAND-Discussion of whether a former BART police officer charged with murder following the fatal shooting of Oscar Grant III should have his trial moved to a different county continued Thursday in Alameda County Superior Court.

Since the Jan. 1 shooting of Grant at the Fruitvale BART station by Johannes Mehserle, extended media coverage and demonstrations have caused Michael Rains, Mehserle's attorney, to believe his client cannot receive a fair trial in Alameda. Rains motioned for a change of venue on Sept. 11.

The hearing, which began Oct. 6, is based primarily on a July 6 telephone survey constructed by original expert witness Edward Bronson and the testimony of expert witness Craig New, who joined the case after Bronson fell ill two weeks ago.

On Thursday, the third consecutive day of the hearing, the court came closer to a verdict as Alameda County Deputy District Attorney David Stein delivered arguments against changing the venue of Mehserle's trial.

Stein referred to the 1,098 officer-involved shootings statewide in the past ten years, which, according to California Department of Statistics data, were deemed as justifiable. However, the evidence presented during preliminary hearings in the Mehserle case will prevent his case from being classified as a justifiable shooting, Stein said.

"What sets this case apart is the existence of admissible evidence," he said. "That evidence is going to follow this case wherever it goes."

Most of Stein's additional arguments were directed toward evaluating the credibility of New's testimony, which concluded a change of venue was necessary due to the survey's findings.

Survey results indicated 98 percent of people surveyed in Alameda County were familiar with the case. In addition, 72 percent of respondents had an opinion on the case: 27 percent said Mehserle is not guilty or probably not guilty of murder and 45 percent said he is probably or definitely guilty, according to Stein.

Stein said the high percentage of people who have prejudged the case is due to the wording of the first question about familiarity with the crime, which directly influenced respondents' answers to the second question about judgement of the case. The prejudice in the first survey question "leaps off the page," he said.

While the defense argues that the survey reflects the county's bias on the case, Stein said bias is inevitable and is not a central issue to the hearing.

"The issue is whether or not they can set aside their bias ... and decide the case by evidence presented and by applicable law," Stein said.

After Stein's statement, which lasted for the majority of Thursday's hearing, Rains spoke for roughly 20 minutes until Judge Morris Jacobson adjourned court, deciding to continue the hearing one more day.

The court hopes to reach a verdict Friday when the hearing resumes at 3 p.m. to receive Rains' closing remarks.


Contact Stephanie Baer at [email protected]

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