The preliminary hearing to decide whether former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, 27, should stand trial for murder in the January 1 killing of Oscar Grant was scheduled to begin today in Oakland.
During the hearing, Alameda County Superior Court Judge John Clay would hear testimony and decide if there is enough evidence for Mehserle to stand trial. But Clay, in consultation with attorneys on both sides, has suggested the hearing date be pushed back to May 18, the San Francisco Chroncle reports.
Clay decided it wasn't the best day to proceed with this case right now, according to the Chronicle, two days after four Oakland police officers were fatally wounded Saturday afternoon in two related gun battles with the an armed parolee.
"Emotions are raw, and it's the proper thing to do," Bill Rapoport, an attorney who represents BART officers who were subpoenaed as witnesses, told the Chronicle.
I wonder to what extent the killings of the four Oakland police officers will shift public opinion with regard to the BART shooting case. Mehserle up until the shooting of 22-year-old Grant was living in Lafayette. He was one of a group of BART officers summoned early the morning of New Year's day to the Fruitvale BART station to investigate reports of a fight.
Grant, a supermarket worker from Hayward, had been pulled off the train. Video footage shot by passengers shows Mehserle shooting Grant in the back as Grant lay face down on the platform. Mehserle's attorneys say he meant to stun Grant with a Taser and accidentally pulled the trigger of his pistol. The former officer is free on $3 million bail.
The shooting sparked destructive riots in downtown Oakland in early January, during which mobs smashed storefronts and cars, and set several cars ablaze, all to show their fury at law enforcement in general and their perception of society's racial prejudice.
Mehserle was subsequently arrested and charged in Grant's murder. In a previous post, I questioned whether Mehserle could get a fair trial in Alameda County. I also asked whether his prosecution was essentially a show trial, a way that Oakland's political and legal establishment was trying to appease segments of the troubled city. This is the segment that holds to a certain "politically correct" view about things, including Grants's death and Johannes Mehserle. The view is that Mehserle is one of those thuggish, closet racist, out-of-control cops cops who would use a conflict, like this one at the Fruitvale BART station, to show who's boss.
I said, back in early February, that I thought Mehserle's attorney could make a good case that Grant's death was a tragic accident. Whether an Alameda County judge or jury would listen, however, would be another matter. But maybe attitudes will shift in light of events of the past two days. It will be interesting to see.