A jury expert hired by former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle testified Tuesday that he thinks Mehserle's trial should be moved out
of Alameda County because an unusually high number of people have already made up their minds about the case.
Craig New, a consultant from Portland, Ore., said the case against Mehserle, 27, who's charged with murder for the shooting death of unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, 22, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early New Year's Day, is “a real lightning rod for the community.”
Testifying at a packed, two-and-a-half hour hearing on Mehserle's motion to have his trial moved away from Alameda County, New said that's because Mehserle is white and Grant was black and there's a history of violence and racism by police officers against black citizens in Oakland and Alameda County.
New said 400 Alameda County residents who were questioned by Edward Bronson, professor emeritus of political science at California State University, Chico “divided themselves largely along racial lines,” with about 80 percent of black respondents saying that Mehserle probably is guilty of murder and 33 percent of whites saying he's probably not guilty.
Bronson was scheduled to testify at Tuesday's hearing, but New, who knows Bronson and is familiar with his work, stepped in at the last minute because Bronson is suffering from a serious illness.
New said more than 96 percent of the participants in Bronson's survey were familiar with Mehserle's case. He said the only case he's
familiar with that had a higher percentage of respondents who were familiar with it was the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Under questioning by Mehserle's lawyer, Michael Rains, New said he agrees with Bronson's opinion that if Mehserle's change of venue motion isn't granted due to what Bronson believes is the prejudicial pretrial publicity it has received, no case should ever be moved.
Prosecutor David Stein questioned the credibility of New and the reliability of Bronson's survey results in a lengthy cross-examination of
Stein will continue his questioning when the hearing resumes Wednesday afternoon. It isn't clear if the hearing will conclude on Wednesday or whether Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson, who is presiding over the matter and has barred the parties from talking to the news media, will rule when the hearing ends or will take the matter under submission and rule at a later date.
Mehserle shot Grant once in the back with his service weapon on the platform of the Fruitvale BART station shortly after 2 a.m. on Jan. 1
after he and other officers were called to the station in response to reports of a fight on a train.
Rains admitted during Mehserle's preliminary hearing in June that Mehserle killed Grant but claimed that it was “a tragic accident” because Mehserle meant to use his Taser device on Grant and fired his gun by mistake.
The trial for Mehserle, who is free on $3 million bail, is scheduled to begin Nov. 2. If the change of venue motion were to be granted,
the state Judicial Council would choose an alternate county where the trial would be held.
Several groups held rallies before Tuesday's hearing asking that Mehserle's trial be kept in Alameda County.
Stein, who paced the courtroom and rolled his eyes at some of New's responses, began his cross-examination by questioning New at length about his fees. New said he's only been involved in the case for 10 days and hasn't yet discussed his fees with Rains, but said his standard rate is $225 an hour.
New told Stein that he didn't make up his mind on whether Mehserle's case should be moved away from Alameda County until after he had
Jacobson, who yawned at one point during the long hearing, then asked New what he had for breakfast but New didn't respond.