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Opening statements set in former BART police officer's murder trial

June 10, 2010 |  8:14 am

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Thursday morning in the murder trial of a former Bay Area transit police officer who fatally shot an unarmed rider last year, sparking riots in Oakland.

A jury has been seated in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom, where Johannes Mehserle, 28, will stand trial. He is charged in the New Year's Day 2009 killing of Oscar Grant on a Bay Area Rapid Transit station platform.

Grant was among a group of men who were detained after a fight on a BART train. Fellow passengers recorded the shooting and its chaotic aftermath on cellphones, and the video was viewed widely over the Internet and on TV.

The video showed that Grant was lying face down, being restrained by officers, when Mehserle shot him once in the back. Mehserle's defense attorney has argued that the officer meant to shoot Grant with an electric stun gun but mistakenly grabbed his pistol.

The case, which was moved to Los Angeles because of concerns about pretrial publicity in Alameda County, involves a rare charge against a police officer accused of murder while on duty.

-- Jack Leonard at L.A. County Superior Court downtown

Photo: Demonstrators protest in L.A. in January as a former BART officer appears in court. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times