Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pretrial publicity forces relocation of trial of transit cop who shot passenger in Oakland

Relatives of Oscar Grant, the young Hayward man whose slaying by a transit cop on a train platform in Oakland sparked riots and protests in the California city's downtown, applauded the news Thursday that the trial of now former BART police officer, who is accused of murder, will be moved to Los Angeles. Family members did not want the case moved to more-conservative San Diego, one of several counties considered as a venue for the trial by the Oakland judge who decided to move the case last month, according to the But Grant's family also opposed moving the trial out of racially diverse Alameda County, across the bay from San Francisco. Grant, 22, was shot and killed while being restrained along with a dozen others at the transit agency's Fruitvale Station following a disturbance on a train. BART is an acronym for Bay Area Rapid Transit, a regional rail system that carries 350,000 passengers daily. The shooting was captured on dozens of cell phone cameras and has been seen by millions on the Internet and on television, the Chronicle said. A BART-commissioned found transit police did not respond adequately to either the disturbance or in the aftermath of the shooting, leading to calls for the disbandment of the BART force. Jacobson ruled last month that the former officer, Johannes Mehserle, could not get a fair trial in Alameda County because of pretrial publicity and the possibility of civil unrest during and after the proceeding. Mehserle resigned from the BART police force immediately after the shooting, presumably to avoid being compelled to give testimony under oath. Mehserle's attorneys, who say the officer pulled his gun by mistake, sought to have the case moved to San Diego County. "I think I can get justice for Oscar in Los Angeles," said Cephus Johnson, Grant's uncle. An attorney for the Grant family, widely known Oakland lawyer John Burris, said Jacobson's ruling was "the most important ruling that will be made in this case other than the verdict." Burris said "Mehserle would have walked" if the case had been moved to San Diego County. Jacobson's decision Thursday to move the case to Los Angeles, to the same courthouse where ex-football star O.J. Simpson was acquitted of murdering his ex-wife and a friend in 1995, came after more than an hour and a half of argument, the Chronicle said. Jacobson said he would ask for a different judge to be appointed to preside over the trial.

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