Former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle returned to Alameda County Superior Court Tuesday for a hearing on a motion to have his trial on charges that he murdered unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III moved out of the county.
In a 76-page change-of-venue motion filed Sept. 11, Mehserle's attorney Michael Rains alleges that Mehserle can't get a fair trial in Alameda County because a high percentage of county residents have already made up their minds that he's guilty.
Rains said more than 96 percent of nearly 400 Alameda County residents who were questioned by Edward Bronson, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, Chico, said they knew about the case and its details.
Mehserle, 27, shot 22-year-old Grant once in the back with his service weapon on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1 after he and other officers were called to the station in response to reports of a fight on a train.
Rains admitted during Mehserle's preliminary hearing in June that Mehserle killed Grant but claimed that it was "a tragic accident" because Mehserle meant to use his Taser on Grant and fired his gun by mistake.
In his motion, Rains also said there have been declarations by two judges suggesting that Mehserle's explanation for the shooting isn't believable and that there's a threat of violence if jurors don't find the former officer guilty of murder.
But Alameda County District Attorney's officials said in court papers that they believe Mehserle can get a fair and impartial trial even though the case has been highly publicized.
The hearing for Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, is scheduled for 2 p.m. in the courtroom of Judge Morris Jacobson. His trial is scheduled to begin Nov. 2.
If the change-of-venue motion were to be granted, the state Judicial Council would choose an alternate county.
Several groups held rallies before today's hearing asking that Mehserle's trial be kept in Alameda County. The rallies were small with just a handful in attendance.
Bay City News