BALTIMORE (AP) — The trials for six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will be held in Baltimore, a judge ruled Thursday, saying that it would be nearly impossible to find a place that was not inundated by publicity from the high-profile case.
Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams dismissed arguments from the officers' attorneys, who said the days of riots, protests and citywide curfews would make it impossible to choose unbiased jurors. Williams said potential jurors can be asked whether they have been influenced by the coverage.
The defense also argued that the trials should be moved because the city settled with Gray's family for $6.4 million, sending a message that the officers are guilty. But the judge said, "The fact that the city settled the civil matter doesn't affect the criminal matter."
A small group of protesters outside the courthouse cheered when they heard the decision and then chanted: "The trial stays here."
Prosecutors argued that high-profile trials such as the Boston Marathon bomber and the D.C. sniper were successfully held locally. Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said the only circumstance under which a change of venue is appropriate is in "a small community where you have an armed lynch mob at the door."
Gray was a 25-year-old black man who died after being fatally injured while in police custody in April. The settlement announced earlier this week sways prospective jurors and indicates "these officers are guilty, and if they are not guilty, why are we paying them $6.4 million?" said attorney Ivan Bates, who argued on behalf of all six officers.
In his argument, Schatzow said the riots were "confined to a relatively small geographic area" and not widespread enough to affect all Baltimore residents.
As he ruled from the bench, the judge said that in an era of worldwide communication, "information is ubiquitous, and every person in the city and state can choose to inundate themselves."
"In this day and age, what does one do with a high-profile case?" he said.
Williams said court would resume at 2 p.m. on other matters in the case.
Police had a "soft presence" outside the courthouse — no shields, helmets or riot gear — as about 20 protesters gathered before the hearing. One demonstrator was arrested.
The officers were indicted in May and face charges ranging from second-degree assault to second-degree murder.
Gray died on April 19, a week after he suffered a critical spinal injury in police custody. His death prompted protests and rioting that shook the city and caused millions of dollars in damage, and has since come to symbolize the broken relationship between the police and the public in Baltimore, and the treatment of black men by police in America.
All six officers, including Edward Nero and Garrett Miller, are charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Lt. Brian Rice, Sgt. Alicia White and Officer William Porter also face a manslaughter charge, while Officer Caesar Goodson faces the most serious charge of all: second-degree "depraved-heart" murder.
Three of the officers are white. Three are black.
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