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California Briefing / San Francisco

Officer's trial will be moved

October 17, 2009|Maria L. La Ganga

A transit officer accused of shooting an unarmed rider in Oakland on New Year's Day cannot get a fair trial in Alameda County and should be tried outside the region, a Superior Court judge ruled Friday.

The death of Oscar Grant, who allegedly was shot by Officer Johannes Mehserle on a BART station platform, sparked riots in downtown Oakland, death threats against Mehserle and a "staggering" volume of media coverage, Judge Morris Jacobson wrote in his 28-page ruling.

Fellow passengers recorded the shooting and its chaotic aftermath on cellphones in footage that was broadcast widely in the region and beyond. Mehserle was charged with murder; Jacobson called such a charge against an on-duty police officer acting in the scope of his duties "rare and nearly unique."

In addition, Jacobson noted in agreeing to the defense request for a change of venue, "the nature of this crime has an implied racial aspect to it in that the defendant is Caucasian and the victim was African American."

Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, said the ruling "certainly does give me some additional reason to believe that justice could occur, and I'm happy about that."

John L. Burris, who has represented Grant's family, could not be reached for comment.

-- Maria L. La Ganga

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