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No African-Americans seated on Mehserle trial jury

(6/9) — 0245 PDT — LOS ANGELES — No African Americans will sit on the final jury panel selected Tuesday in the second-degree murder trial of former BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle, who shot and killed unarmed BART passenger Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day 2009.

During Tuesday’s jury selection, defense attorney Michael Rains removed three remaining potential black jurors using peremptory challenges. Those challenges require no justification or explanation.

Judge Robert Perry had already dismissed nine potential jurors for cause, including two African Americans, before the attorneys used the challenges for potential jurors each lawyer didn’t want on the final panel.

Eight of the jurors are women and four are men. The jury is comprised of seven whites and five non-whites who appeared to be predominantly Hispanic.

The selection of the jury panel angered members of the Grant family, who told the Beat many of the challenges appeared to be based on race.

“I think Rains did it because he didn’t want one black mother looking at another black mother,” said Tracie Cooper, Grant’s aunt.

Grant’s uncle Cephus Johnson said that, while he would have liked to see black jurors help decide the outcome of the trial, he is not as concerned with the racial make-up of the jury as he is about the recent motions Rains filed to exclude what Johnson sees as key evidence.

“It really doesn’t matter what color the jury is,” he said. “The jury could have been all white; if people are presented with a gross injustice they’ll hold an aggressor accountable. The problem is if they’re not presented with all the evidence […] and that’s what might happen.”

Rains is attempting to exclude from evidence a synchronized compilation of videos taken at the time of the shooting, which the defense argues is misleading because of editing concerns, and the use of a racial epithet by Mehserle’s colleague, former BART Police Officer Tony Pirone, moments before the killing.

Perry is expected to rule during a hearing tomorrow on whether the evidence will be permitted at trial.

Earlier Tuesday, attorneys asked potential jurors questions about their past experiences with police and their ability to put aside any biases.

Rains and prosecutor David Stein each asked general questions to the group of about 50 potential jurors present, before zeroing in on individuals for more detailed answers based on an extensive questionnaire they filled out last week.

The defense asked jurors whether or not they had had bad experiences with police officers, including being racially profiled.

One of the African American women dismissed said her husband had been racially profiled.

“[Profiling] just comes with the territory of being black,” the potential juror said.

Rains asked the group if any potential juror would feel uncomfortable and would “shut down” after watching video footage of someone being shot and killed.

He also paid particular attention to those who had negative experiences with police, whereas Stein questioned each potential juror, row by row, probing for further details from individuals who admitted any connection to law enforcement officers.

Stein asked one group if any potential juror would find it impossible to convict a police officer of murder.

The prosecutor also asked them if they could follow the law when making a decision even if they did not personally agree with it and whether they could evaluate testimony without factoring in their personal feelings about the witnesses.

Neither side used all of its maximum of 20 peremptory challenges to dismiss jurors. The defense used eight peremptory challenges, removing three African Americans, four Hispanics, and one white juror.

The prosecution used seven, removing four Hispanics, including two with strong links to police forces, two Asians, and one white juror.

Opening arguments in the case are expected Thursday morning in Los Angeles, where the trial has been moved due to concerns over whether Mehserle could receive a fair trial in Alameda County.

The California Beat and The Campanil’s joint continuing coverage of the Johannes Mehserle BART Shooting trial is funded in part through Spot.Us. Visit our special trial news page and help fund this project.

Beat reporters Tashina Manyak and Jennifer Courtney reported from Los Angeles. Contact Tashina Manyak at tmanyak@californiabeat.org.

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