As the trial of a former BART police officer accused of killing an unarmed train passenger gets underway in Los Angeles, it is crystal clear the focus will be on a series of cell phone videos.
The videos were taken early January 1, 2009 at the Fruitvale BART Station in Oakland.
During opening statements Thursday morning attorneys on both sides of the case played the videos for the jury, but told very different storylines.
Prosecutor David Stein showed the jury the videos and took them through every step of the incident. He said a fellow officer, Tony Pirone, leaned over toward Grant and shouted a racial epithet twice. Stein said, "There's nothing like a racial slur to stir up any emotion."
He also told the jury it was clear Grant was not resisting arrest and was in fact putting his hands behind his back to be handcuffed when he was shot.
"What happened that night was not officers responding to a fight in a train. It was much more than that. The shooting death of Oscar Grant was a result if emotions taking over for discipline. Aggression taking over for judgment and training and for that this defendant must be held responsible. And that is why at the end of this case I'm going to ask you to convict him of the murder of Oscar Grant," Stein told the jury.
Mehserle's attorney Michael Rains told the jury that Mehserle was trapped in a wretched prison of his own memory from what happened that night. He said the Mehserle thought he was deploying his Taser and accidentally pulled the trigger of a gun instead.
He pointed to one freeze frame that showed Mehserle's thumb in an upward position, as if to flick the switch of a Taser instead of the trigger of a gun.
"It is a tragedy. This case chronicles the tragic. The unintended death if a young man who shouldn't have died. Shouldn't have been shot," Rains said. But he added that the evidence shows Grant was actively resisting arrest from the moment he went to the ground until the shot was fired.
"He had no beef with Mr. Grant," Rains told the eight-woman, four-man jury which does not include an African American. "There was no reason for him to be angry at Mr. Grant."
The prosecutor also showed the jury a still photo taken by Oscar Grant himself in the moments before he died. It showed Mehserle with his Taser out near his right waistband. He is looking away from Grant. That photo was introduced by the prosecution, but it is expected to help the defense because it shows that Mehserle had been ready to use his Taser earlier in the incident.
Outside court Grant's mother, Wanda Johnson, said she was moved by that image. She said her son was "letting me know, 'Mamma I wasn't doing anything."' Adding that her son was still speaking to her beyond the grave.
Several members of Grant's family were in court Thursday. No one from Mehserle's family was there, according to a court spokesman.
The trial, which was moved to Los Angeles because of pre-trial publicity.
The first witnesses were two woman who shot video tape.
The trial is expected to last four weeks.