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Murder conviction in BART shooting a big challenge, legal experts say

July 3, 2010 | 10:15 am

A racially charged murder case came to a close Friday with a prosecutor asking Los Angeles County jurors to do what no local jury has done for nearly 30 years: convict a cop of murder in an on-duty police shooting.

The jury will weigh whether a former transit police officer intentionally fired his weapon at an unarmed man lying face-down on an Oakland train station platform or whether the shooting was a tragic accident.

BART officer's trialTo support their case, prosecutors have repeatedly shown jurors several videos taken by witnesses that show Johannes Mehserle aiming his handgun and firing a single round into the back of Oscar J. Grant III as the officer stood over him.

But the footage may help build false expectations of a murder conviction. Legal experts said prosecutors rarely file murder charges in police shootings and when they do, they face a high legal hurdle in persuading 12 jurors that an officer is guilty of the ultimate crime.

"If they get a conviction, this will be fairly groundbreaking," said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor. "These are tough, tough cases."

Read Times Staff Writer Jack Leonard's full story on the BART shooting trial here. In the video above, he analyzes the case. Tell us what you think about the case below.

Photo: Beatrice X, left, walks with Oscar J. Grant III's mother, Wanda Johnson, second from left, during a lunch break at the trial of former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle. Credit: John W. Adkisson / Los Angeles Times