Johannes Mehserle, 27, was arrested Tuesday in Nevada and on Wednesday appeared briefly in court, where he waived extradition to California. He was expected to be returned to California later Wednesday.
Witnesses said Mehserle, who is white, fired a shot into the back of 22-year-old Oscar Grant while the man was lying face down on a train platform at a station in Oakland. Grant and others had been pulled off a train after reports of fighting, as New Year's Eve revelers were shuttling home after midnight.
Alameda Country District Attorney Tom Orloff said he would not speculate on whether the charge would end up being first-degree murder or second-degree murder.
"At this point, what I feel the evidence indicates, is an unlawful killing done by an intentional act and from the evidence we have there's nothing that would mitigate that to something lower than a murder," Orloff said at a news conference announcing the charge.
The shooting, captured on cell phone cameras and widely viewed on the Internet, has inflamed long-running tensions between law enforcement authorities and many African-American residents.
Hundreds of people have taken to the streets calling for the prosecution of Mehserle, with one rally last week spiraling into violence that resulted in more than 100 arrests and damage to dozens of businesses.
Another demonstration was planned Wednesday afternoon.
Douglas County Undersheriff Paul Howell said he believes Mehserle went to Nevada for his own safety.
"He just wanted to get out of the Bay Area due to the magnitude of the incident," Howell said. "He wasn't trying to run."
John Burris, the attorney for Grant's family, said the news of the charge was "terrific."
"It is consistent with the evidence I have seen. I think the family will be pleased," Burris said.
Mehserle had refused to talk to Bay Area Regional Transit investigators before resigning last week.
"I want to know why he did it," said BART board member Carole Ward Allen. "We've heard from everybody else but him. While I can't speak for the entire BART board, we want to make this process as transparent as possible."
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