Jury selected in Calif. public transit shooting
The ex-transit officer is charged with killing an unarmed man
By Greg Risling and Terry Collins
LOS ANGELES — A jury was selected Tuesday in the trial of a white ex-transit officer charged with killing an unarmed black man in Oakland, with no black jurors selected following the two-day process.
Former Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer Johannes Mehserle has pleaded not guilty to murdering Oscar Grant on New Year's Day 2009. The shooting was captured on video by several bystanders.
The panel selected Tuesday is composed of eight women and four men. Of those, seven are white, four are Hispanic and one is East Indian.
Selection began Monday with a defense attorney Michael Rains asking some prospective jurists whether they've been subjected to racial profiling.
Rains stressed to prospective jurors that while he wanted to know about their interaction with law enforcement and if they had been unfairly targeted because of their race, that emotions or bias shouldn't affect the outcome if they are picked to be on the jury.
"My fear is you will disregard the law to hold someone accountable even if the evidence hasn't proven the charges," Rains said.
Jack Bryson, who attended Tuesday's proceedings and whose sons — Jackie and Nigel — were with Grant when he was killed, immediately left the courtroom in disgust.
"This is like a slap in the face," Bryson told The Associated Press. "This case came all the way to Los Angeles after the judge in Alameda County said they couldn't get a fair and impartial jury there.
"This is the best you can do, and you did this in two days. We could've stayed back in Oakland for this."
Grant's uncle, Cephus "Bobby" Johnson, said Tuesday that he is "extremely surprised" that given L.A. County's black population that not one African American was selected from the jury pool.
Bay Area defense attorney Michael Cardoza, who attended several pretrial proceedings, said he was surprised that a jury in such a heated case was selected so quickly.
"This could be a wake up call for communities (of color) who don't heed to a jury summons. I think that's the message that has to be sent. If you want representation you have to get out and serve," Cardoza said.
During the selection process, a handful of jurors said they or people they knew had negative experiences with police. One young black woman seemed resigned to racial profiling. She mentioned her husband was detained by police in Louisiana when he was a teen for simply being "on the wrong side of the tracks."
"I think it comes with the territory of being black," she said.
Asked by Rains if racial profiling still exists for her here in Southern California, she replied, "Not as frequently."
The circumstances of the case sparked racial tensions in Alameda County and intense media coverage helped lead to the trial being moved to Los Angeles.
The trial could be the most racially polarizing of its kind in California since four Los Angeles police officers were acquitted of beating Rodney King in 1992.
Juror 103, a middle-age, white property manager, recounted that he was with a group of black friends one time when they were stopped by police for "driving while black." He said he didn't know how often racial profiling occurred but it may have some effect on how he would view the case.
"I just trust that it's not uncommon," he said.
Deputy District Attorney David Stein polled every potential juror, mainly asking if they could fairly weigh the evidence and could possible convict a former police officer. He also asked those who have friends or family who work in law enforcement if they could withstand any criticism if a jury found Mehserle guilty. Most said they could.
Rains has said his client accidentally pulled out a handgun instead of his stun gun. Prosecutors contend Mehserle, 28, intended to shoot Grant, 22, and he used his weapon because officers were losing control of the situation.
Most people questioned by Rains said they didn't want serve on the jury because they would be away from their jobs too long (the trial is expected to last about a month). However, nearly all said they could be fair and impartial if they were selected.
"If Mehserle receives a not guilty verdict, people fairly or unfairly will point to the jury selection process," Cardoza concluded. "But I would say, 'Don't rush to judgment.'"
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