May 06–All signs indicate that the next Baltimore police officer to go on trial in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray is planning to have his fate decided by a judge instead of a jury, legal experts say.
Police officers often choose to have a judge hear their case when the allegations turn on whether their actions were reasonable, experts said. In this case, Officer Edward M. Nero’s defense team could be concerned about a jury reaching a verdict based on emotion rather than a calculated reading of the law.
While Nero’s choice of a trial by judge or jury won’t be made public until a hearing Tuesday, the court has not taken certain steps to prepare for a jury trial. For instance, it has not announced a schedule for jury selection, as it did previously when trials of officers in the Gray case approached.
“All the indicators suggest that Officer Nero has communicated to the court that he intends to proceed with a bench trial,” said attorney Steve Levin, a former federal prosecutor who is not involved in the case.
An advisory issued by the court late Wednesday says a motions hearing for Nero will be held Tuesday, with his trial beginning the following day. All proceedings next week are scheduled for a room in Courthouse East, not the larger room in the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse that was used for jury selection in Officer William G. Porter’s trial.
For Porter’s trial, the court called on hundreds of jurors to appear, and lawyers argued extensively in pre-trial motions about how to approach the jury selection process. Neither prosecutors nor Nero’s defense team have filed motions regarding jury selection.
Before Porter’s trial, his attorneys had argued that the officers couldn’t get a fair trial in the city, and sought to have the cases moved. They also requested that jurors be sequestered.
“In a case like this one, where jury selection and concerns about venue are significantly higher than the normal case, there would unquestionably be motions related to jury selection and requests about what should be asked,” said David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore.
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