Advantage BART Cop as Oscar Grant Case Goes to Trial

Defense lawyers for Johannes Mehserle, the ex-transit cop who shot and killed Oscar Grant, win key pretrial motions as opening statements in the trial get underway this week.

Meg Whitman.

In the days after Johannes Mehserle shot and killed Oscar Grant on January 1, 2009, the ex-BART cop claimed the shooting was accidental. But the images of the killing caught on video appeared to be damning. Grant, a BART passenger who had been involved in a fight on the train, was face down on the pavement, his arms behind him, when Mehserle pulled out his service weapon and shot him in the back at close range. But now, seventeen months later, with opening statements in Mehserle’s Los Angeles murder trial scheduled to get underway this week, the outcome of the case appears to be anything but clear.

As at many trials, what happens before the jury is seated can be just as important as the actual testimony. And in this case, Mehserle’s defense team, led by noted East Bay attorney Michael Rains, has won some pivotal pretrial skirmishes that could help determine the ultimate result of the trial. First, Rains got the case moved out of the East Bay, and then late last month, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Robert Perry ruled that a defense “expert” hired by Rains will be able to “interpret” for the jury the video footage of the shooting, according to the Oakland Tribune. Presumably, this expert will tell the jury that the video proves the killing was not murder.

The judge’s decision frustrated prosecutors and members of Grant’s family, who believe jurors should be able to interpret the video themselves. Still, even with the defense’s pretrial victories, the case may hinge on whether Mehserle takes the stand, the San Francisco Chronicle reported, quoting criminal trial attorneys. Defendants often don’t testify in their own trials for fear of being tripped up by prosecutors. But in a case where the only real dispute is whether Mehserle intended to kill Grant or not, the ex-BART cop may need to explain to the jurors in his own words what he was thinking at the moment he fired his gun.

Either way, there’ll be a lot riding on the jury’s verdict. After all, rioters inflicted significant damage in Oakland after video of the shooting became public and protesters believed authorities had responded too slowly to the killing. And that was well before the case went to trial.

The Rise of the Republican Woman

Gender equity has never been at the forefront of GOP politics, but barring some last-minute miracle, the California Republican Party was poised to nominate two women this week to be its standard bearers — Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina. Whitman will be the first female governor in state history if she defeats state Attorney General Jerry Brown this November, while Fiorina would be the first Republican woman elected to the US Senate from California if she beats incumbent Barbara Boxer. There’s even a local angle: Brown and Boxer both live in Oakland.

Clearly, Whitman and Fiorina rose to the top of state Republican politics in large part because of their wealth. Whitman’s decision to spend $70 million of her own money was the real difference in her campaign against Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner. And Fiorina’s ability to swamp the airwaves before Election Day appeared to be pivotal against her lesser-funded rival, Tom Campbell, a former dean of UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business.

But to win right-wing votes, the two women made political sacrifices, too. At one time, both were considered moderates, but their decision to shift rightward may have made them too conservative for blue state California. According to the most recent polls, Brown and Boxer hold comfortable leads, even though they spent almost no money on advertising while Whitman and Fiorina blitzed the airwaves.

Three-Dot Roundup

A judge granted an injunction against a violent North Oakland gang, in what could be a prelude to similar injunctions in other parts of the city. The injunction, sought by Oakland City Attorney John Russo and Police Chief Anthony Batts, allows police to keep known gang members from associating with each other. Russo and Batts also may seek injunctions against other gangs across the city. … AC Transit slashed bus service by 7.2 percent across-the-board, in a move that will be especially difficult on low-income riders. … A group of North Oakland and Berkeley residents known as the Hills Conservation Network sued the East Bay Regional Parks District over plans to cut down large numbers of eucalyptus trees in the East Bay hills. The park district is trying to reduce the threat of fire in the area, but the group says it’s engaging in illegal clear cutting. … The Bay Area Air Quality Management District adopted landmark greenhouse-gas caps on future development. But the caps may not curb suburban sprawl or spur urban growth — two factors that might have the biggest impact on climate change. … A ruling to protect endangered green sturgeon by the National Marine Fisheries Service could help environmentalists in their attempt to save the fragile Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. … And questions arose over whether former state Senator Liz Figueroa, a candidate for the Alameda County Board of Supervisors, is a tax delinquent who doesn’t live in the East Bay.