Identities of Jurors in Trial Over Freddie Gray’s Death Will Be Shielded

25 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Baltimore judge opts not to sequester jurors in first trial of Freddie Gray case.

It is perhaps fitting that one of the greatest defense hurdles Officer William G. BALTIMORE — Citing “intense media scrutiny” around the coming trial of the first of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who suffered a spinal injury after being arrested in April, a judge ruled Tuesday that jurors in the case will remain anonymous.There are some obvious differences in how voters in Baltimore City and the rest of the state view the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death and the underlying social problems the ensuing riots exposed. In the statement, she acknowledged the “lack of faith and distrust” over the legal process, and asked that all residents remain respectful throughout the duration of the trial.

Attorneys for both sides returned to court this week for a pretrial hearing to hash out several motions, including a request from defense lawyers to sequester the jury and limit its access to the media. The Sun/University of Baltimore poll found that voters statewide sympathize much more strongly with the police than with the protesters, whereas opinions are closely divided in the city. The judge said he would use the “normal procedure” to question 75 to 80 prospective jurors beginning on Monday, but will ask questions in his chambers to spare jurors from standing at the bench. At Tuesday’s pretrial hearing, Judge Barry Williams also denied a motion to change the venue after The Baltimore Sun​ published profile of Gray and a University of Maryland Baltimore study that should city residents were distrustful of police. The judge also determined prosecutors could only use two cell phone videos of the arrest at trial — one from from Mount and Baker and the other from Pressbury — and jurors will be allowed to see the inside of the police van Gray rode in.

Williams ruled that he will not preemptively limit the number of character witnesses and won’t bar the introduction of certain evidence, including policies and procedures related to belting prisoners. Just 18 percent of the state’s black voters side with police on the issues underlying the unrest that followed Gray’s death, while 53 percent sympathize with protesters. Because of “extensive publicity,” Williams said disclosing the names of jurors could “create a substantial” threat that they would be “harassed or intimated.” Tuesday’s hearing comes less than a week before the trial of William G. Prosecutors can also introduce evidence that it was gross negligence not to put Gray in seat belt and can show police department’s general order mandating seat belts in vans. The judge ruled mostly for the prosecution and against the defense’s effort to exclude various bits of evidence. “This court is not going to try the case piecemeal,” Williams said from the bench, in ruling against the defense’s motion to exclude from evidence the police General Order that all arrestees must be seat-belted into the transport wagon.

That attention is largely reserved for people of color, particularly those who are poor and under-educated with few opportunities in life — like Gray, a small-time drug dealer from Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood, which has double the city’s poverty and unemployment rates and among the worst rates for domestic violence, shootings, homicides, vacant buildings and lead paint violations. Larry Hogan overwhelmingly positive marks for his handling of the situation related to Gray’s death — 55 percent of city primary voters approved and 37 percent disapproved, compared to 60 percent approval and 26 percent disapproval statewide. Some video taken earlier, when Gray was arrested by other officers before Porter was called to help, will not be shown in Porter’s trial, because it is not relevant to the charges against Porter, Williams ruled. Officer Porter faces charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, and has pleaded not guilty on all counts. Similarly, voters disapproved of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s handling of events in roughly equal proportions — 54 percent for the state and 53 percent for the city.

Porter was present at several stops of the transport van in which Gray was injured, and prosecutors allege he should have sought medical attention for Gray. She did get higher approval ratings from city voters — 43 percent compared to 34 percent, a difference evidently related to how directly familiar they are with her leadership. The Baltimore Sun has previously reported that, in a statement to police about Gray being injured in custody, Porter mentioned not being sure whether Gray was faking injury while in the van. Picking a jury will be the most delicate part of the case, and the defense lawyers for all the police officers have pushed for the case to be removed from Baltimore, citing publicity.

Porter’s case are going to be asked to do something that some officers apparently find too difficult: rise above their preconceptions — be they informed through experience or irrational fear — in the name of justice. Legal experts say that prosecutors will face substantial hurdles in proving their cases against all the officers and that the first trial could determine how the rest will go.

Some say Officer Porter may waive his right to a jury trial and have the case tried before Judge Williams instead. “When officers have been charged with this kind of misconduct, they have traditionally waived the jury, tried the case in front of a judge — and tended to be successful,” said David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who has been following the legal proceedings. Some see him as a person who was doing no wrong when he was arrested, shackled and put into the back of a police van where he sustained a fatal injury. Williams, who at some point in his career conveniently provided a list of his criminal voir dire to the Maryland State Bar Association, which posted the document online.

The first question asks whether jurors know anything about the case — and, frankly, every one of them should; a city resident in the dark about Gray is clearly not interested in social or civic responsibility. Judge Williams ruled in September that the trials will at least begin in Baltimore, but he kept open the option of moving them if he is convinced an impartial jury cannot be picked.

He suffered lead paint poisoning as a child, dropped out of high school and dealt drugs in a neighborhood where that is the one industry that’s always hiring, no questions asked about a criminal record. And if you’ve been arrested (question 10b) you might know how it feels to be considered less than human or of the reasons that someone might turn to crime to survive.

Do you view the issue as a lack of personal responsibility, which nearly a third of poll respondents statewide and more than half of Republicans saw as the primary cause of Baltimore’s problems? Judge Williams’ online questionnaire concludes by informing jurors that they are “required to render a fair and impartial verdict” based on evidence and legal instructions and asking them if there’s a reason they can’t do that. Some people do break free of criminal pasts and make new lives, but doing so takes extraordinary perseverance of a sort that people with no connection to that world may have a hard time appreciating. Goodson, who drove the van carrying Gray, faces the most serious charge of second-degree depraved-heart murder, involuntary manslaughter and other counts.

Unfortunately, though, the riots and the violence that followed seem not to have fostered connections between the city and suburbs but to have severed them. Last week, Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz teamed up with Mayor Rawlings-Blake to urge county residents to patronize Baltimore’s arts institutions, which have seen substantial drop-offs in attendance since the riots.

Certainly the economic and cultural implications of that trend are important in their own right, but more significant is the degree to which that suggests people in the Baltimore region are separating themselves from the city literally and figuratively.

Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts

About this site