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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: East Bay | Police State and Prisons
Chip Johnson sells out Oakland once again, calling for Mehserle change of venue
Chip Johnson buys Rains' lies in Mehserle's change of venue motion hook, line, and sinker. He falls for the false argument that Oakland will burn if the trial is held in Alameda and Mehserle is acquitted. The truth is that no one knows what would happen in that case, but if you look at the Rodney King case, change of venue was no guarantee that people in the local jurisdiction will not protest an unjust verdict. Apparently, Chip -- the Chronicles' vessel for constantly dissing Oakland -- didn't follow the evidence presented in the preliminary hearing closely. Nor has he studied Rains' actual motion to change venue. Perhaps he has simply relied on the Chron's weak coverage. Or else he would see how weak Mehserle's case is, UNLESS Rains can get the trial moved to a more racially prejudiced/less diverse county. And that is exactly what Chip recommends. Fuck you, Chip, for saying that the there can't be a fair trial if the people of Alameda are involved. Just say it Chip, you don't really mean Alameda County and cities like Livermore. You mean African Americans in Oakland can't be fair.
BART police shooting case should be moved
Friday, October 2, 2009
Johannes Mehserle, the former BART police officer charged with murder for shooting an unarmed man on New Year's Day, will probably not be tried by Alameda County jurors.
Defense attorney Michael Rains is seeking a change of venue for the trial, and a hearing is scheduled in Alameda County Superior Court next week.
Mehserle fatally shot Oscar Grant, 22, of San Leandro as Grant lay prone on the Fruitvale Station platform. Grant had been detained by police as they investigated a fight aboard a train.
Mehserle later claimed that he meant to fire his Taser, not his gun.
But in the days after the shooting, neither Mehserle, who is white, nor BART police offered an explanation for why Grant, who was black, was shot. The shooting was captured on video and widely viewed, and sparked two nights of unrest in downtown Oakland. Outraged protesters smashed store windows and vandalized parked cars. Oakland police arrested more than 30 people during the civil disturbance.
Mehserle and his family received hate mail and death threats, authorities said.
Those actions, coupled with the broad pre-trial publicity, have laid the legal foundation for the change of venue motion.
"If the Mehserle case does not justify a change of venue, virtually no case can meet the legal standard," said Edward Bronson, the legal expert hired by Mehserle's defense team.
Franklin Zimring, an emeritus professor of criminal law at the UC Berkeley School of Law, regards the change of venue motion as part of a broader plan to settle the case with a lesser charge.
The charge is murder - "but you're not going to get that," Zimring said. "Everybody wants to see this case settle, the question is, 'Settle for what?' because a murder (conviction) is unthinkable."
Murder is an intentional act and the prosecution would have to prove Mehserle intended to kill Grant.
Whether they are willing to say so publicly or not, there are certainly some Oakland city officials and county prosecutors who would not be disappointed if the trial moved elsewhere.
"What I think the D.A. wants is a voluntary manslaughter conviction (but) if a judge handed down an involuntary manslaughter conviction - well, I wouldn't want to be a store owner with a lot of display glass in downtown Oakland," he said.
A former Alameda County prosecutor who did not want to be quoted directly, agreed.
"The prosecution may want this out of town because the political implications are that if you get an unpopular verdict, the town may burn," he said.
"If I'm an Oakland politician, I want this trial out of town because the flip side is day after day of protest, jurors filing past the scene - and (the protesters are) never going to quit," he added.
So if Alameda County cannot offer Mehserle a trial decided by an impartial jury, then what would be an appropriate setting for such a controversial trial? If the defense is granted a venue change, the next step is to "find a community with a lot fewer people of color," Zimring said.
"If you're the defense, what you'd love to do is move this case to the Central Valley, but if you're the prosecution and there is a change of venue, it's going to be Los Angeles or bust," said Zimring.
If the venue motion is rejected, defense attorneys would be handed a textbook case to appeal the decision, he added.
When you consider some of the high-profile Bay Area trials that have been moved in recent years solely because of rabid pretrial publicity - from the Scott Peterson murder case, which was moved from Modesto to San Mateo County, to the San Francisco police "Fajitagate" scandal, which was heard in Sacramento, to the San Francisco dog mauling case heard in Los Angeles - the public reaction to the Mehserle case dwarfs them all.
No matter where the trial is held, defense attorneys will have a nearly impossible time justifying Mehserle's actions.
Still, he deserves a fair trial. And he isn't likely to get one in Alameda County.
Chip Johnson's column appears in The Chronicle Tuesdays and Fridays. E-mail him at chjohnson [at] sfchronicle.com.