Mehserle's Defense May Call a Surprise Witness

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The man in question.

    The defense attorney for former BART police Officer Johannes  Mehserle is considering calling prominent Oakland civil rights lawyer John  Burris as a witness in Mehserle's upcoming trial on charges that he murdered  unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, according to court documents.

          Mehserle, 28, who is free on $3 million bail, is charged in  connection with the shooting death of Grant on the platform of the Fruitvale  BART station in Oakland shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009, after Mehserle  and other officers responded to reports that there was a fight on a train.
         
    Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted Mehserle shot and  killed Grant but claims that the shooting was accidental because the former  officer meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant but fired his gun by  mistake.
         
    Burris filed a $50 million wrongful death and civil rights lawsuit  on March 2, 2009, on behalf of Grant's family against BART, Mehserle and  other transit agency police officers.
         
    On March 18, a federal judge approved a $1.5 million settlement  between BART and Grant's 5-year-old daughter, Tatiana Grant. However, no  settlement has been reached with Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson.
         
    In a recent filing in Los Angeles Superior Court, where jury  selection for Mehserle's trial is scheduled to start June 1, Rains said he's  considering calling Burris as a witness because Burris represents some of the  people who were involved in the incident at the Fruitvale station, including  Sophina Mesa, who's Tatiana's mother.
         
    In a declaration that's an offer of proof to compel potential  witnesses to appear in court, Rains said Burris also represents friends of  Grant who were "percipient witnesses to the shooting."
         
    Rains said, "Mr. Burris has previously held a press conference in  which he indicated that the individuals he represents may be reluctant to  give testimony which would ostensibly be helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful  to Mr. Grant concerning many of the events which occurred because they have  inherited 'snitch' jackets and that their lives are in danger if they give  testimony helpful to Mr. Mehserle and harmful to Mr. Grant relating to the  events of Jan. 1, 2009."
         
    Rains said, "Mr. Burris may be called as a witness to get  testimony concerning threats or intimidation which has occurred of these  witnesses."
         
    Burris, who has frequently commented on Mehserle's case on  television and at news conferences, couldn't be reached for comment.
         
    Rains included 28 people, including Burris, on his list of  potential witnesses.
         
    His list includes current BART Officer Jon Woffinden and former  Officer Anthony Pirone, who was the first officer to arrive on the Fruitvale  platform recently fired for the way he detained Grant and his friends.  Woffinden and Pirone both testified at Mehserle's preliminary hearing last year.
         
    But Rains' list omits Marysol Domenici, another former officer who  testified at the preliminary hearing. She was recently fired for the way she  reported the incident, both in police reports and in her testimony at the  court hearing.
         
    Pirone and Domenici are both appealing their dismissals.
         
    Rains' list also includes Oakland police Sgt. Tony Jones, who was  assigned to investigate the case seven days after the shooting.
         
    Rains said Jones may be called "to testify to investigative steps  taken in the investigation, including as a possible impeachment witness to  statements by others."
         
    In addition, the defense list includes Alameda County District  Attorney investigators Bob Conner and Bruce Brock, who are working on the  case with prosecutor David Stein, and a San Leandro police officer who is  expected to testify about a 2006 incident in which Grant, who had three  felony convictions, allegedly resisted arrest.
         
    Stein's witness list hasn't been posted on the court's website.
         
    Rains and Stein can't comment on the case because of a court order  barring them from talking to the news media.
         
    In October, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson  should be moved out of the county because the large amount of publicity the  case has received jeopardized his chances of getting a fair trial locally.
         
    In November, Jacobson selected Los Angeles County as the new venue  and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George chose Judge Ronald  Perry to preside over the case.