Mehserle trial to be moved

October 17, 2009 12:02:30 AM PDT
Despite the objections of the prosecutor and many in the community, a judge has ordered the murder trial of a former BART police officer out of Oakland.

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It was the only to ensure that Johannes Mehserle would receive a fair trial, according to Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson.

Mehserle is accused of killing 23-year-old Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station in the early hours of New Year's Day. Grant was in police custody following an alleged fight on a BART train at the time Mehserle shot him.

The judge's 28-page ruling specifically mentions the extensive media coverage of the case as a reason for granting the change of venue request, writing, "In just nine months since this homicide, there have been 2,000 or more newspaper articles, 2,000 or more television news segments, far more than 350 radio news stories and untold numbers of Internet hits that included downloads that reached one-half million by mid-January on one television station's website alone."

LINK: Read the change of venue ruling (PDF)

The judge's ruling also made mention to the violence Oakland had seen in response to the case, writing that on at least three occasions, violence had erupted during protests.

John Burris, the attorney representing Grant's family, says he was not surprised by the ruling.

"He wants to get far enough away, where the media saturation is not similar and comparable to what it is here in the Bay Area, so you have to be, it seems to me, outside the nine Bay Area counties for that to happen," he said.

Los Angeles, San Diego and Sacramento counties are possibilities the family could live with, Burris said, because they have similar demographics to Alameda County.

"The judge warned the defense that even though this case is going out of Alameda County, that that is not an excuse to be discriminatory in the selection of jurors and in particular the judge said, 'You are not going to exclude African American jurors from this jury wherever the case is tried,'" ABC7 legal analyst Dean Johnson said.

ABC7 EXTRA: Legal analyst Dean Johnson says moving the Mehserle trial is the right decision

The District Attorney issued a brief response to the ruling saying they could not comment because of the gag order in place.

Oakland Reacts to the Ruling

Oakland police were on high alert on Friday night, ready to respond to any possible backlash to the ruling, but things were quiet.

Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums issued a statement shortly after the ruling came out, calling for peace in response to the change of venue, writing, "My fervent plea is that this decision does not cause chaos and upheaval in our city."

The sentiment among grassroots organizations that have been following the case was one of extreme disappointment.

The feeling was echoed by Grant's mother, who was at the courthouse when the decision came down, but said that her faith in God would guide her through.

"I believe that God is good and God is going to have the final say in everything; justice will be served, whether it be by the judicial system or by the Lord, God has got the final say," Wanda Johnson said.

The civil rights group By Any Means Necessary gathered at the courthouse to express their rage over the decision. They are concerned that the trial will end up being a repeat of the Rodney King trial, the Los Angeles police brutality case that sparked the 1992 LA riots.

"It's a negative precedent, because look at what happened in Los Angeles in '92 with Rodney King; Rodney King was beaten on videotape, when the venue was moved to all-white Simi Valley, those police officers were acquitted," group member Tanya Kappner said. "That was an outrage."

"It should be our case in our county and I think that we have a right as a county to determine and decide what we see as justice in our county," group member Yvette Felarca said.

Grant supporters say they plan to be busy over the next several days. They plan to organize demonstrations, knowing that it likely will not change the judge's decision.

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