Six cops, six trials, judge rules

Judge rules separate trials for police charged in Freddie Gray murder--setback for prosecution

The state originally wanted two trials for the six police charged in the death of Freddie Gray, then Janice Bledsoe, an assistant state’s attorney, told the judge they’d settle for four.

Judge Barry Williams ruled there will be six, one for each defendant.

“This makes the state’s job a lot harder,” said Ivan Bates, one of the lawyers for Sgt. Alicia White, one of the six defendants. “This is a humongous win for us.”

State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby declined to comment.

The afternoon session of the first hearings in the case, which has drawn national attention and required a ticketing system to gain entrance o the courtroom, began shortly after 2 p.m. when Bledsoe, a long-experienced lawyer who has worked police misconduct cases, got off on the wrong foot with the judge. She asked Williams to rule on a matter now contingent on allowing the prosecutors to reopen it later.

"The state is trying to make the best use of the court’s time," Bledsoe said. "We know that tremendous resources are being expended in this trial. We’re trying to be as economical as possible."

She said that if some defendants waive their right to a jury trial later, "the state could package the trials in a different manner." Williams interrupted Bledsoe.

“What you’re saying is, you want to determine what they’re going to do, then you want to back it up and do something else,” the judge said. “They have a tactical choice to make. You don’t. You charged this case.”

Judge Williams suggested that the prosecutors and defense lawyers talk to each other, adding that “it’d be novel for everyone at the table.”

That got a big laugh.

Bledsoe said that the prosecution team had been in discussion with the defense lawyers, of which about a dozen sat opposite her in front of the bulging press gallery. Some of the discussions are based on "removal"—that is, a motion set for next week on whether the trial(s) should be moved to another jurisdiction. She did not want to commit the state to one course of action. Tactics on both sides might change, Bledsoe said, "so making us choose today . . ." 

Williams: "No. I’m not making you do anything." He reminded Bledsoe that the prosecution had requested the hearing on this matter.

The hearing went this way for a bit longer before Williams asked counsel to approach the bench, heaving what sounded like the biggest sigh any circuit court judge has ever sighed. "I didn’t think I was gonna have to do this," Williams said to more laughter.

The bench conference looked like a football huddle. The CNN reporter counted 15 attorneys crowded around the white-noise maker. There followed a recess, then at 3 p.m. Bledsoe returned to her argument, now discussing the statements police made in the case, police made in the case, which were redacted or filed under seal. All are redacted except for the statement of Lt. Brian Rice, who reportedly did not say anything about the actions of his subordinate officers. 

Bledsoe then argued for a joint trial for Officer Edward Nero, White, and Caesar Goodson, the van driver. Because the evidence in each of these cases is admissible in the others, it only makes sense, Bledsoe said.

Attorneys for the defendants disagreed, citing case law and the fact that, while some of the charges are identical, the underlying allegations supporting them are not. White, for example, was a supervisor in the Western District on the day Gray was arrested. She was monitoring the radio, but was not present at most of the physical locations crucial to the state’s case.

The “spillover effect” and the “transferrance of guilt” from one defendant to another would be a substantial risk if the defendants were tried together, they argued. Besides that, the evidence is not all mutually admissable because the facts supporting the charges are different in each case. Attorney Marc Zayon, who represents Nero, said the state basically has two cases: The first concerns Gray’s arrest, whether it was proper and how he was handled, and the second concerns what happened to Gray after he was put in the police transport van.

“It’s no two separate cases,” Bledsoe responded. 

“Just because you say something twice doesn’t make it true,” he told the prosecutor, before calling a recess to decide the matter.

When he returned, at 4:25 p.m. Judge Williams agreed that the evidence in each of the cases was likely not all admissible in the others. “I have to go with what everyone agrees is the law in this case,” he said, adding that the state charged the six cops separately and did not allege a conspiracy among them.

Trying Goodson and Nero together, Judge Williams said, “is not in the interest of justice.” He then held that the Nero and Goodson evidence would be prejudicial to White’s case as well. He asked to see the lawyers in his chambers and called the court in recess.

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