Updated Friday 5:30ish: We've added some material below about how death threats and the like affected the judge's decision.
The murder trial of former BART police officer Johannes Mehserle, for the New Year's Day shooting of Oscar Grant, is moving to another county.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Morris Jacobson this afternoon granted Mehserle’s motion for a change of venue, citing “the rare nature and gravity of a murder charge arising out of an on-duty uniformed police officer killing an unarmed man during an arrest, the high degree of political turmoil associated with the case, and the resulting avalanche of intense, continuing and current media attention.”
Apparently the fear potential Alameda County jurors might experience, given the death threats and civil unrest the case has brought, factored into Jacobson’s decision.
According to his order, defense counsel Michael Rains had shared with the court death threats left on his office's answering machine. The judge also said the court had been told of threats made to an earlier defense attorney and to Mehserle’s newborn, as well as bomb threats at the home of Mehserle’s parents.
Jacobson also described a court employee’s fears as indicative of what jurors might feel during the trial.
He noted that the court issued a restraining order on the attorneys in the case last February after Rains provided a copy of his bail motion to the Chronicle, including names of witnesses, one of whom works at the court. “Over the months that followed the bail hearing, this court heard from a number of employees about their concerns for their colleague and her husband after they had been publicly identified,” he wrote.
Public anger and its impact on court proceedings also weighed into his decision. “The protest activity was so loud on one occasion that it interrupted the bail hearing in this case,” Jacobson wrote. “On another occasion, angry protestors literally packed the lobby, wall-to-wall, outside of the District Attorney’s Office in this courthouse.”
— Kate Moser