Mehserle's attorney wants change of venue

October 6, 2009 6:37:29 PM PDT
A poll commissioned by former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle's defense lawyers shows a racially divided jury pool in Alameda County. That poll is being used to convince the judge to move the murder trial out of Oakland.

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Groups opposed to moving the trial out of Oakland staged a demonstration outside the Alameda County courthouse. The Nation of Islam led the protest rally.

"It is shameful that Johannes Mehserle would allow his attorney to argue that, because blacks and others have organized themselves to stand for justice, that justice cannot be served in Alameda County," Nation of Islam Minister Keith Muhammad said.

Members of other groups also spoke out against the change of venue.

"We don't believe that a white suburban jury would do anything but acquit Officer Mehserle," Tania Kappner of By Any Means Necessary said.

Mehserle is charged with murder in the shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant early New Year's Day.

Grant was shot while lying on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station. He was being held by BART police after someone reported a fight on a train.

Mehserle's lawyer Michael Raines says Mehserle mistakenly fired his gun instead of his Taser.

Raines main argument to move the trial is a survey he commissioned that shows 98 percent of those polled knew something about the case. Jury consultant Craig New told the court that was an extremely high percentage.

The poll also showed what New said was a racial divide in Alameda County -- 80 percent of African Americans surveyed believe Mehserle is probably or definitely guilty of murder; on the other hand, 33 percent of whites felt he is not guilty.

In addition, 82 percent of the respondents said they were afraid there would be violence in Oakland if Mehserle were acquitted.

ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson says all this is powerful evidence to move the trial out of Alameda County.

"If any case deserved a change of venue, this is the one; we know now that over 75 percent of the people in the potential jury pool have made up their minds," Johnson said.

Because of a gag order in place, neither the prosecution nor the defense commented on Tuesday's proceedings.

The motion hearing will continue Wednesday; the prosecution is asking for the raw data from the survey.

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