Acquittal in Freddie Gray case will not
alter Maryland prosecutors' strategy
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[May 25, 2016]
By Ian Simpson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Prosecutors of
Baltimore police officers charged in the death of black detainee Freddie
Gray will likely stick to their arguments of illegal arrest and causing
criminal injury in a transport van even though an officer was acquitted
in the case this week, legal experts said.
Sheriff deputies escort the family of police officer Edward Nero from
the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland, May 23, 2016. REUTERS/Bryan
Although it was the second setback for prosecutors who have
brought charges against six officers, the narrowly focused judge's
decision acquitting Officer Edward Nero suggested that the
prosecution's strategy could bear fruit in at least some of the five
remaining trials, the experts said.
Prosecutors could hope for a turning point in the June 6 trial of
Officer Caesar Goodson, Jr.
Goodson drove the transport van in which Gray, 25, suffered a broken
neck in April 2015, and he has been charged with second-degree
"I have a feeling that the prosecution sees this as a closer loss
than they might have expected and, if they're not emboldened, I
think they're going forward with the case against Officer Goodson
relatively unchanged," said David Jaros, a law professor at the
University of Baltimore.
The first case brought against any of the officers charged in Gray's
death ended in a mistrial last December.
The judge dismissed the jury in the involuntary manslaughter trial
of Officer William Porter after 16 hours of deliberations during
which it was unable to reach a verdict on any of the charges.
Porter's retrial is to be held in September.
Jaros and others have said that Nero had a minor role in the Gray
case. It was widely seen as the weakest case brought by State's
Attorney Marilyn Mosby's office, making it less likely that her team
would change course with the acquittal, they said.
Mosby has not commented on the trial results since there is a court
gag order on the cases.
Prosecutors contended that Nero arrested Gray without cause when he
fled from him and two other officers unprovoked, and then failed to
secure Gray in the transport van.
Gray died a week after the arrest and his death triggered rioting in
the majority black city.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, who heard the
case in a bench trial, said prosecutors had failed to prove that
Nero was involved in the arrest and should have secured Gray.
In his verdict, Williams said it was reasonable for Nero to have
assumed that his superior officer, Lieutenant Brian Rice, and
Goodson would decide whether Gray should be seat-belted, the
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"I think he seemed to signal that the person who ultimately has
responsibility for that is the van driver, who is coincidentally the
next one up, Goodson," said Warren Brown, a Baltimore defense lawyer
who has followed the case.
Williams also wrote that "the detention morphed into an arrest," a
view that Jaros said could prop up prosecutors' argument that Gray
was arrested without justification.
That view might have bearing on the case against Officer Garrett
Miller, Nero's partner, who testified under immunity that he
arrested Gray and handcuffed him, Jaros said. Miller is charged with
second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in
Jaros said that if he were Miller, "I would have been surprised and
somewhat concerned that the judge seemed to accept the prosecution
theory that this was an arrest without probable cause."
Law professor Chris O'Brien at the State University of New York at
Buffalo said Miller's testimony that he had arrested Gray would make
prosecuting him much more difficult since it was done under
"But in terms of the other officers (Rice and Goodson), I don't know
that it will really have any impact," he said. Rice faces trial in
July on charges that include involuntary manslaughter and assault.
Sergeant Alicia White, 32, has been charged with involuntary
manslaughter and her trial is scheduled for October.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Toni Reinhold)
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