Judge sets earlier trial date for Mehserle

Johannes Mehserle has said he was reaching for his Taser, but mistakenly used his gun and fatally shot Grant.
March 26, 2010 7:39:59 PM PDT
The defense attorney for the former BART police officer charged with murdering a train passenger on a platform wants his client's jury to include those who work in law enforcement.

Attorney Michael Rains told Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Robert Perry that in order for his client Johannes Mehserle to get a fair trial, the jury should include police officers. Rains plans to file a motion asking Perry to consider making an exception to California law that excuses most law enforcement personnel from serving as jurors in criminal cases. The issue came up during a pre-trial hearing on jury selection in Los Angeles Friday. Mehserle is charged with murder in the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the Fruitvale BART station early New Year's Day 2009.

Grant's family attended the hearing and outside of court, strongly objected to Rains' request.

"It's a law that police officers are not to sit on the jury pool or be selected as a juror, based on their profession," Grant's uncle, Bobby Johnson, said. "They are going to be biased."

Perry called Rains' motion "interesting" and said he would take it under consideration.

In other developments, lawyers reviewed several of the more than 100 questions to be included in a questionnaire for prospective jurors. They include those aimed at determining a jurors' experience with and feelings about the police. For instance, one will ask, "Do police officers lie?"

The hearing comes one day after BART fired another officer who helped detain Grant and his friends the night he was killed. Marysol Domenici was dismissed Wednesday by interim Police Chief Dash Butler, based on a recommendation by an outside law firm hired to conduct an independent probe into the Grant shooting.

"It took too long," Grant's uncle, Kenny Johnson, said of Domenici's dismissal. "And I think they got the wrong one first. We're working on the rest of them now."

Mehserle will be tried for murder. Prosecutors would not say whether they are trying for a second or first degree conviction, which would require evidence of premeditation. Alameda County Prosecutor David Stein said in court he would let the jury decide what if any crime Mehserle committed.

The attorneys are under a gag order, but Rains has indicated that his defense will be that Mehserle mistook his service revolver for a Taser when firing at Grant.

The trial was set to begin with jury selection the week of June 7, but both sides agreed to move the date up a week to June 1. The trial is expected to last three to four weeks.


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