Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector, Baltimore Sun, September 10, 2015
A Baltimore Circuit Court judge ruled Thursday morning that the trials of six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will stay in Baltimore, saying the defense had failed to prove that the officers cannot receive a fair trial in the city.
Judge Barry Williams said it would be wrong to assume the jury pool was already tainted, and that potential jurors should be first screened. His comments left open the possibility that the trial could still be moved at a later date.
“The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic,” Williams said in his ruling. “They think for themselves.”
Defense attorneys had argued that intense media coverage and this week’s surprise multi-million dollar settlement with Gray’s family, along with fear of future unrest, created an atmosphere in which jurors would be biased.
Prosecutors, however, urged that moving the case without attempting to find a jury was “insulting to the citizens of Baltimore” and should be a last option.
Williams previously ruled last week that each officer should be tried individually. The officers could also elect to bypass a jury and have Williams decide their fate.
The Gray family’s attorney, William “Billy” Murphy Jr., said Williams made a “brave decision” to keep the trials in Baltimore, though he said he did not believe the judge was impacted by public pressure.
Protesters who gathered outside the courthouse Thursday morning applauded the judge’s decision.
“I think it’s terrific,” said Julie MacGregor, who has protested during both pretrial motions hearings. “It’s a huge relief. It’s a jury of your peers. They should be tried here.”
“Without the pressure of our presence, and the power of our presence, only God knows what would’ve happened,” said protester Ariane McBride, 35.
Ivan Bates, an attorney for Sgt. Alicia White, argued on behalf of all six officers. He said city residents were under siege during the April unrest and confined to their homes by the curfew, and as jurors would feel pressure to convict the officers to prevent more disturbances.
“They will know they must find our client guilty so they can go home to their community,” Bates said.