Change of Venue Hearing to Determine Location of BART Shooting Case Trial

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A change of venue hearing will take place today to decide where to hold the murder trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle. Speculation is high that Los Angeles or San Diego County will be chosen, either of which would drastically change the demographics of the jury pool.

A judge granted Mehserle's attorney's motion to move the trial out of Alameda County on the grounds that he could not get a fair trial there because widespread media coverage and mass protests had biased the jury pool against Mehserle.

Mehserle is accused of murdering Oscar Grant III, a black 21-year-old Hayward resident, whom Mehserle fatally shot at the Fruitvale BART station on New Year's Day.

John Burris, the attorney for the Grant family, said the family hoped the trial would be moved to Los Angeles County over San Diego County.

"I think the Grant family will get a fairer trial in Los Angeles," Burris said. "(San Diego) is a conservative county, and the history of that county is they rarely if ever have convicted a police officer for shooting a person, let alone for shooting an African-American person."

Race has been a constant concern throughout the case and protesters have accused Mehserle's attorneys of attempting to skew the demographics of the jury by having the trial moved to a county with a smaller black population.

Alameda County is 57 percent white and 14 percent black, while Los Angeles County is 74 percent white and 9 percent black and San Diego is 80 percent white and 5 percent black, according to 2008 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

"If they send it to San Diego it will be an enormous moral victory for the defense team," said Franklin Zimring, a professor at the Boalt Hall School of Law. "San Diego has one of the smallest concentrations of African Americans in the entire US. It's demographically closer to Toronto than Alameda."

Zimring said regardless of where the case was sent, he expected it to be plea bargained, which would mean the lawyers would reach an agreement outside of court wherein Mehserle would agree to plead guilty in exchange for a lesser sentence.

"My guess is the more expensive the trial and the larger the trial uncertainties the more powerful the defense attorney is in the bargaining process," he said.

The case hinges on whether or not Mehserle intended to use a Taser instead of a gun when he shot Grant, and Zimring said Mehserle would probably at least be convicted of manslaughter.

"Usually when police use deadly force, there's a conflict in testimonies and there'll be one story where the police officer's actions were justified," he said. "There is no such story here. If this wasn't outrageous negligence, then I'm the Easter Bunny."


Contact Hannah Edwards at [email protected]

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