More than 120 questions will be posed to potential jurors when selection begins June 8. Former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle has pleaded not guilty to murdering Oscar Grant III on New Year’s Day 2009 at the Fruitvale station in Oakland.
The questions were posted Tuesday on the Los Angeles Superior Court website. Some ask whether jurors could put aside that Mehserle is white and Grant was black.
Mehserle’s trial was moved from Alameda County to Los Angeles because of widespread media coverage and racial tensions enflamed by the case.
Also Tuesday, a judge issued another ruling in favor of Mehserle in his upcoming trial.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Ronald Perry said he would allow defense video forensic analyst Michael Schott to testify in detail about a time-synchronized composite he compiled of four videos of the shooting that claimed the life of Grant, a 22-year-old Hayward man, shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, 2009. Mehserle and other officers had responded to the station on reports that there was a fight on a train.
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted Mehserle shot and killed Grant but claims the shooting was accidental because the former officer meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant but fired his gun by mistake.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge C. Don Clay allowed Schott to testify at Mehserle’s preliminary hearing last year but limited his testimony, saying the enhanced video wasn’t relevant and included “nothing new.”
But Rains said in a recent brief that Schott’s composite is “a far more accurate description of the true events” than videos that have been presented by prosecutor David Stein.
Perry’s ruling Tuesday followed a ruling on May 7 in which he said Rains can present evidence of an October 2006 incident in which Grant, who had three felony convictions, allegedly resisted being arrested and was shot with a Taser stun gun when officers tried to handcuff him during a traffic stop.
A pool of potential jurors for Mehserle’s trial will report to Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday to fill out the questionnaire.
Questioning of potential jurors will begin next Tuesday and opening statements could be presented late next week if a jury is selected by then.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled last October that Mehserle’s trial should be moved out of the county because the large amount of publicity the case had 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.
In his brief, Rains said he believes that Schott’s composite of the videos shows that Grant tried to knee another BART officer, Tony Pirone, in the groin and that Grant was trying to get up from the ground at the time he was shot.
In another ruling Tuesday, Perry denied Rains’ bid to call Oakland civil rights attorney John Burris as a defense witness.
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 another recent brief, Rains said he wanted to call Burris as a witness because Burris represents friends of Grant who were with him at the time of the shooting yet have given depositions, which are helpful to the defense, saying that Mehserle appeared to be shocked when his gun went off.
Rains said he was concerned that Burris said at a news conference in February that the friends “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 he wanted to call Burris “concerning threats or intimidation which has occurred of these witnesses.”
But Perry said he doesn’t anticipate a problem with Grant’s friends’ lying on the witness stand.
Burris, who has attended most of Mehserle’s hearings since charges were filed against him, would have been barred from attending Mehserle’s trial if he had been listed as a witness. But Perry said Burris can attend the trial.
However, Perry barred Burris, who has frequently commented on the case, from speaking to the news media.
Perry previously kept in place a gag order that Jacobson issued last year that banned Rains and Stein from talking about the case. His expanded gag order also prevents any other attorneys involved in the case, including BART attorney Dale Allen, from talking to the media.
Supporters of Grant were holding a candlelight vigil outside the Alameda County District Attorney’s office on Tuesday evening.
Vigil organizer Rachel Jackson of the Oakland Assembly for Justice for Grant said the purpose of the vigil was to remind the public that “Oscar Grant is the victim here and Johannes Mehserle is on trial, not Oscar Grant.”
Jackson said she and other members of the group “are very concerned that the judge has ruled in favor of defense motions that are allowing Oscar Grant to be put on trial.”
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