The highly anticipated and long awaited trial of a former BART police officer accused of killing an unarmed passenger on New Year's Eve night a year and a half ago is scheduled to begin late this week in Los Angeles.
Last week, hundreds of potential jurors reported to court for hours and hours of screening to see if they would make the cut and sit on the jury.
The timing appears to be on track for opening statements to begin this Thursday.
Johannes Mehserle is accused of killing Oscar Grant on a Fruitvale BART platform early Jan. 1, 2009. Grant was being detained at the time after reportedly taking part in a fight on the train on its way back from the City. It's the first time ever in California that a police officer has stood trial in the fatal shooting of a suspect.
Legal observers say Mehserle's legal team has built some momentum heading into trial. They point to two rulings. First the judge will allow Grant's criminal record to be introduced during the trial. That record includes an earlier case of resisting arrest. Second, a video expert that says he has spend hundreds of hours analyzing cell phone videos of the shooting will be allowed to be called by the defense.
The trial is expected to center of six cell phone videos taken that night that show Mehserle shooting Grant. There is also a never before seen surveillance camera video that will be played at the trial.
Mehserle has said he thought he was using his Taser when he shot Grant.
In a pre-trial motion, Merserle's lawyer, Michael Rains wrote, "So, the relevant question in this case turns out to be very simple: Can the state supply proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Mehserle formed an intent to use the gun as opposed to his Taser. (Mehserle's) defense will rather be that he believed Grant might be armed, that Grant continued to resist, and that (Mehserle) properly concluded the appropriate response was to use his Taser."
Whether the jury believes that will be the key to their verdict in the case.
Due to pre-trial publicity, the trial is being held in Los Angeles. It's expected to last about a month.
Oakland residents who say they are standing on the side of Grant's family have already picked a location to meet whenever a verdict is read. They say they will hold a rally at the intersection of Broadway and 14th Street. What happens after the verdict depends on the verdict, according to organizers
Here are some of the 121 questions jurors were asked during jury selection last week: See entire questionnaire (pdf)
- Have you ever written a letter to the editor?
- How familiar are you with the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland?
- Have you, friend or relative ever been shot, or shot at?
- Have you, friends or relative even had a gun pointed at them?
- Have you, friends or relatives ever used a taser or seen a taser used?
- What is your opinion of the crime situation in Oakland?
- What is your opinion of the crime situation in your neighborhood?
- Do police officers lie?
- Have you ever considered working in law enforcement?
- Have you or anyone close to you ever had a bad experience with a police officer?
- Could you fire a gun in self-defense?
- Should police officers be treated differently than civilians if they break the law?
- Will the fact that a white police officer shot and killed a black man make it difficult for you to be a fair and impartial juror in this case?
- Do you have an opinion as to whether racial discrimination is a problem in Oakland?
- Have you every seen a police officer act inappropriately?
- If you are selected as a juror in this case, do you anticipate any negative reactions by friends or family if you find the defendant guilty? If you find the defendant not guilty?
- Would you like to serve on this jury? Why?