Mehserle Trial Moved Outside Home Turf

Judge blames protesters, media in controversy-provoking decision

By Owen Thomas
|  Friday, Oct 16, 2009  |  Updated 4:28 PM PDT
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Mehserle Trial Moved Outside Home Turf

BART officer Johannes Mehserle shot and killed 22-year-old Oscar Grant on New Year's Day.

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Deciding where to hold a trial in the New Year's shooting of Oscar Grant was a no-win decision for the judge in the case.

Judge Morris Jacobson ruled Friday afternoon that  Johannes Mehserle, who fatally shot Oscar Grant on an Oakland BART platform on New Year's Day while working as a BART police officer, could not get a fair trial in Alameda County. He granted a motion for a change of venue.

The site of the trial could take a few weeks to deceide, according to an official at the Santa Clara County Superior Court, who commented on the case.

After deciding to change the venue for a trial, a California judge sends a request to the State Administrative Office of the Court. The office then helps the judge look for a suitable facility, which can take weeks.

In his 28-page decision, Jacobson cited extensive media coverage and noisy protests of previous court hearings as factors in granting the change of venue.

Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains told Jacobson at a hearing on the defense's change of venue  motion last week that if Mehserle's trial isn't moved out of Alameda County  because of all the pretrial publicity it has received, "justice won't be  done." But prosecutor David Stein said a change of venue  would be "premature, unwarranted and unjustified."

Had he not granted the motion, Jacobson would have been criticized by advocates for Mehserle, who say that the former police officer couldn't get a fair hearing. And having granted the motion, he'll now face invective for not making Mehserle stand trial in the same county where Grant died.

It's just one more step in a messy case -- and now the mess is moving somewhere else.

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