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Oscar Grant Trial on Fast Track

New America Media, News Report, Thandisizwe Chimurenga Posted: Mar 28, 2010

Editor's note: This story is part of a collaboration between Oakland Local, New America Media, Spot.us and The Black Hour at Laney College, which are sponsoring independent coverage of the Mehserle trial.

LOS ANGELES -- The criminal trial of the former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer who shot Oscar Grant, an unarmed black man, on an Oakland subway platform will begin about a week earlier than originally scheduled.

In a court hearing in Los Angeles Friday afternoon, Judge Robert Perry moved the trial date to June 1. Both the district attorneys office and the defendant, Johannes Mehserle, hope they will be able to send the case to the jury prior to July 4 although there are no guarantees.

Mehserle's attorney, Michael Rains, did not make any reference in open court to BARTs March 24 firing of Marysol Domenici, who was among the first officers to respond to the Fruitvale transit station. However, he did file a motion challenging the exemption of police officers from service on the jury.

Domenicis firing had been recommended by a Bay Area law firm hired by BART to do an independent assessment of the shooting. Domenicis partner, Tony Pirone, made the decision to take Grant into custody for resisting arrest. Both officers have been on paid administrative leave since the New Years Day shooting. BART has not stated whether Pirone will also be terminated.

Rains motion is in reference to the Code of Civil Procedure, section 219, which excludes police officers as a class from jury service. Rains argues in the motion that his clients right to an impartial jury, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitutions Sixth Amendment and Californias Constitution, will be violated if the exemption stands. The judge said he looked forward to reading Rains motion but did not discuss the issue any further.

The purpose of Friday's hearing, which was originally scheduled in February, was to discuss a potential questionnaire for jurors in the case. The document, which was not finalized and not made available to the public, currently contains more than 130 questions and was often likened to a psychiatric exam during the proceedings. Judge Perry expressed his opinion to both sides that the longer the questionnaire, the more burdensome to the jurors.

Although Rains claimed that some of his questions had been stricken from the document, Judge Perry stated, upon closer examination, that some of them had been reworded or better worded in other parts of the document.

The defense attorney asked various questions that showed a concern over the attitudes of potential jurors toward law enforcement. Judge Perry took the liberty of adding at least one question to the mix: Do police officers lie? The judge said that he had used this question before in questionnaires and that it would be of use to flag attitudes toward police that would be of benefit to both sides.

Rains also expressed concern regarding the logistics of bringing witnesses for the defense to court. The trial -- which was originally slated to take place in Alameda County where the killing took place -- has been moved more than 300 miles south to Los Angeles in order to increase the likelihood that Mehserle would receive a fair trail.

Judge Perry noted that he would endorse subpoenas for witnesses who are more than 150 miles away from the location of the court proceedings. A fourth pretrial hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on May 7 when the court will hear a series of "in limine" motions filed by the defense.

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