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Fatal BART shooting trial moved to L.A.

January 8, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A racially charged murder trial in Northern California has been moved to Los Angeles where the first hearing was held Friday. Johannes Mehserle, 27, a former Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) officer who allegedly shot and killed an unarmed man.Emotions are explosive in the Oakland shooting death of 22-year-old Oscar Grant. A protest was held in Los Angeles Friday. Last year, there were riots in the Bay Area in response to the shooting.

So intense is the public furor there, the trial of Grant's alleged assailant had to be moved to Los Angeles.

Judge Robert Perry listed multiple reasons he will ban cameras in the courtroom and tamp down publicity. Death threats have been made against Mehserle, his infant son, his family and his attorney.

Cell-phone videos set off the outrage. In the incident, Grant was unarmed and on his knees, then laid face down. Mehserle shot him. Mehserle said he mistakenly used his gun instead of his Taser.

One-hundred-seventy businesses were vandalized as the incident took on racial overtones in the days after the shooting.

"You can hear him say in the video that 'I have a daughter, please don't Tase me,'" said Cephas Johnson, the victim's uncle.

Perry worries about statements that could prejudice Los Angeles jurors who will hear the case. He imposed a gag order on all trial participants, warning them not to make any comments outside the courtroom.

Others who were not gagged, including the victim's family's attorney, were warned too.

"I will not proceed until I am sure there will be a fair trial," said Perry. "If it takes five years, it takes five years."

"I have no interest in doing anything that is going to prejudice this case, to delay the case," said John Burris, the victim's family attorney.

Attorneys say it will take four weeks to present all their evidence and all their witnesses.

The judge hopes to have the trial under way by mid-May.