Emotional Opening to Mehserle Murder Trial

Emotional Opening to Mehserle Murder Trial

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LOS ANGELES -- Alameda County’s District Attorney gave an evocative opening statement in the murder trial of Johannes Mehserle Thursday, June 10.

The former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) police officer shot an unarmed Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009 on an Oakland subway platform. Grant died hours later at a local hospital.

Amid extensive pre-trial publicity and accusations that African-Americans were prejudiced, the trial was moved to Los Angeles last fall.

The jury in the Los Angeles is made up of 7 Latinos and 5 whites.

“Chaos, Distrust and Disorder”

After giving jurors an idea of who Oscar Grant was, the Deputy District Attorney David Stein described for them what the BART system, San Francisco on New Year’s Eve, and the BART system in San Francisco on New Year’s Eve was like.

He then began to walk them through the sequence of events and some of the video evidence in the case.

“What happens when an officer believes he has the right to mistreat, abuse people in a public setting?” he asked the jurors.

“Chaos, Distrust and Disorder will ensue.”

“You will see how the incident began and the reaction of the police,” said Stein. “ … see the reaction of the defendant (Mehserle) resulted in chaos, disorder and distrust,” he said.

The playing of the video where Grant was shot in the back elicited tears from some members of Grant’s family who were in attendance.

The videos, which have been seen hundreds of times via the internet, were enhanced by the District Attorney’s office, and now appeared much clearer in terms of both picture and sound quality.

On one video, former BART officer Tony Pirone can clearly be heard yelling “Bi@#! Ass N@**!” at Oscar Grant, and Carlos Reyes, seated next to Grant on the platform, can be heard yelling “He’s on my leg,” referring to Grant’s position when Mehserle and Pirone attempt to handcuff him.

On another video, Mehserle is seen pointing his Taser at Oscar Grant; the red laser beam from the Taser clearly visible on Grant’s chest. On still another video, Grant is seen talking on a cell phone and then taking a picture of Mehserle before placing the phone in his pocket.

The photo that Grant took of Mehserle standing in front of him with his Taser unholstered and in his hand was submitted as evidence by the DA.

Stein referred to Grant’s 2006 charge of resisting arrest in his opening statement by saying that Grant was not resisting arrest on New Year’s Day 2009.

“He knew what that (being tased) felt like; he didn’t want that to happen again.”

Stein wrapped up his approximately 2-hour statement by telling the jurors that “An arrest is an emotional as well as a physical problem,” and that “the shooting of Oscar Grant was a case of “emotion taking over. It was aggression taking over for training and discipline.”

“The Other Side of the Coin”

Michael Rains, attorney for Mehserle, began his opening statement by telling jurors that “a trial is a controversy. Like a coin there are two sides. The defense will tell the other side.”

Rains went on to refute most of the prosecutor’s opening statement and told the jurors that Stein “spent a lot of time talking (Tony) Pirone,” but not his client. “Mehserle,” he said, “was only on the platform two-and-a-half minutes before the shot was fired.”

Rains used cardboard projections and referred to screen shots of the various videos in the case to make his points instead of walking through them the way Stein did. The approach was obviously not as effective as the DA’s because at least two jurors fell asleep during Rains’ argument.

The judge had the jurors leave the room and they were brought back in and advised by the judge to let him know should the need a break.

“The Two T’s”
“This case is about tragedy and training,” said Rains. The former policeman-turned lawyer emphasized to the jurors Mehserle’s extensive firearms training over his two year career as opposed to the 6 hours of Taser training provided to Mehserle in early December 2008.

Using the screen shots, Rains began to walk the jurors through the defense’s timeline of what happened on New Year’s morning 2009.

Rains stated that the evidence will show that both Grant and Bryson attempted to assault officers Pirone and Mehserle and that Mehserle’s shooting of Grant consisted of movements consistent with pulling a Taser out of holster.

After the defense laid out their opening statement the prosecution began to call its first few witnesses: the D.A’s audio and video technician, and two of the five BART passengers who filmed what happened at the Fruitvale BART station.

This is part of our ongoing coverage in collaboration with several news organizations including Oakland Local, KALW, New American Media, Mission Local, Placeblogger, California Beat and The Campanil.