A panel of 200 potential jurors reported to Los Angeles County Superior Court today to fill out a 14-page questionnaire for the trial of former BART police Officer Johannes Mehserle.
Mehserle, 28, is charged with murdering unarmed passenger Oscar Grant III, 22, at the Fruitvale station in Oakland early on New Year’s Day 2009. He is currently free on $3 million bail.
Mehserle’s lawyer, Michael Rains, has admitted that Mehserle shot and killed Grant but claims that the shooting was accidental because the former officer meant to use his Taser stun gun on Grant but fired his gun by mistake.
In addition to asking for basic information about potential jurors’ age, sex, job status and level of education, the questionnaire asks about their attitudes regarding race, police officers, crime and the use of Taser guns.
Potential jurors are also being asked how knowledgeable they are about the shooting and whether they have formed any impressions that would influence their ability to be fair to both sides in the case.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson ruled last October that Mehserle’s trial should be moved out of the county because the large amount of publicity the case has received jeopardized Mehserle’s chances of getting a fair trial locally.
In November, Jacobson selected Los Angeles County as the new venue and California Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald George chose Judge Ronald Perry to preside over the case.
The questionnaire notes that Mehserle is white and Grant was black and asks potential jurors, “Can you judge this case fairly without consideration of the race of the persons involved?”
It also asks if potential jurors have been the victim of racial discrimination and if they have an opinion on whether racial discrimination is a problem in Oakland, where the shooting occurred, or in Los Angeles, where the trial is taking place.
In addition, it asks if jury candidates have ever had negative experiences with police officers and whether they think police officers lie.
Questioning of potential jurors will begin next Tuesday and opening statements could be presented late next week if a jury is selected by then.