OAKLAND — A hearing to determine if the murder trial against former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle should be moved to a different county was postponed by four days Friday because an expert witness in the case is ill.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson granted the four-day delay because an expert used by Mehserle's defense attorney to argue for a change of venue must be replaced.
Edward Bronson, a Chico State professor with more than a decade of experience in examining juries and change-of-venue issues, recently suffered a "catastrophic illness" that required life-threatening surgery and was unable to testify in the previously scheduled Oct. 2 hearing regarding a change of venue.
Mehserle is accused of murder in the killing of Oscar Grant III on the Fruitvale BART station platform early Jan. 1. Cell phone videos shot by passengers show that Mehserle shot Grant in the back as the Hayward resident lay facedown.
Mehserle has never made a statement publicly about the incident, but Rains has argued that his client made a mistake, believing he was firing his Taser at Grant and not his handgun.
A judge ruled earlier this year that prosecutors have enough evidence in the case to place Mehserle before a jury on murder charges but Rains wants the case moved because he said his client cannot receive a fair trial in Alameda County.
Helping Rains argue that point was Bronson, hired by Rains to conduct a survey of potential Alameda County jurors and create a report detailing the amount of exposure the case has received in the county. Bronson's report is the basis for Rains' request to have the murder trial against his client relocated to another county.
Bronson was scheduled to appear in court next week to testify on behalf of Mehserle and describe his findings to the court, but his doctors will not allow him to work for at least two months, Rains said.
While Rains said he would prefer to wait and have Bronson testify, Jacobson said there was no way to know if Bronson, who is almost 80 years old, would be healthy enough to travel.
Instead, Jacobson asked Rains to use a different expert who was already hired by the defense. That expert, Craig New, a Portland, Ore.-based jury consultant, has reviewed Bronson's report and analysis and will be able to testify for the defense, Rains said.
Rains said New has worked with Bronson in the past and will be able to discuss Bronson's work and give detailed expert opinions on its findings.
Bronson's report found that 96 percent of about 400 Alameda County residents surveyed said they knew about the Mehserle case and its details, with almost 46 percent saying the former officer is definitely guilty or probably guilty.
That report also focused on a racial divide regarding the case, with more than 78 percent of African-Americans polled saying that Mehserle is guilty of murder, while only 33 percent of white people surveyed believed he was guilty.
Mehserle was not required to appear in court Friday for the brief discussion on the delay but must appear October 6 when prosecutors and Rains argue the change of venue motion before Jacobson.