Freddie Gray trials to remain in Baltimore, judge rules

Baltimore police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Top row left to right: Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Garrett E. Miller and Edward M. Nero. Bottom row left to right: William G. Porter, Brian W. Rice and Alicia D. White. © Wikipedia
The judge in the Freddie Gray case has ruled that the trials of the six police officers charged in his death should remain in Baltimore, Maryland. Defense attorneys had argued that their clients couldn’t receive a fair trial in the city.

In a pretrial hearing, Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams denied the defense motion to move the proceedings to another Maryland jurisdiction, though he said that the court would still need to decide whether an impartial jury can be seated in the city.

“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic,” Williams said in his ruling. “They think for themselves.”

The defense argued that their case was bolstered by the announcement made Wednesday that Baltimore approved a $6.4 million wrongful death settlement with Gray’s family.

Attorney Ivan Bates, representing Sgt. Alicia White, argued on behalf of all six officers that the payout sends a message to prospective jurors that "these officers are guilty, and if they are not guilty, why are we paying them $6.4 million?"

He also noted that the settlement is being paid for by potential jurors, all of whom are taxpayers as well.

The defense also pointed to a previous trial involving the Baltimore PD, in which a young boy was arrested for sitting on a dirtbike. The 2007 trial was moved to neighboring Howard County, and the officers were cleared in that case, the Baltimore Sun’s Kevin Rector reported.

Michael Schatzow, the Chief Deputy of the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office, argued that it would be premature to move the proceedings without at least vetting potential jurors.

“If you do that and we can’t find a jury, the state will be the first one to say let’s go,” he told Williams.

The judge concurred, saying in his ruling that it was wrong to “assume [jurors] cannot be fair” without going through the voir dire process. He added that he was not convinced that the intense media coverage of the case and the April riots had influenced Baltimore’s citizens because the coverage had been “local, state, national, international.”

Outside of the downtown courthouse, a small group of protesters cheered Williams’ decision. “The trial stays here! The trial stays here!” they chanted.

One protester was arrested before the hearing began. 24-year-old Ryan Arrendell was the first demonstrator to arrive, AP reported. She held a sign that listed Gray’s cause of death as “Baltimore City Police.” When asked where the trial should be held, she answered, “Baltimore. They didn’t bother to kill him elsewhere.”

Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper of the sheriff's office said Arrendell was charged with failure to obey a lawful order for refusing to leave the sidewalk in front of the courthouse and go to a designated peaceful protest area.

Her sign was thrown out after sheriff’s deputies took her into custody.

About 20 protesters gathered before Williams got the proceedings underway. Many of them had been outside the pretrial hearing last Wednesday, where activist Kwame Rose was arrested.

"They boxed us in with this protest outside," Rose said. "We were going to box them in to hold this in Baltimore."