BALTIMORE - A judge delivered a not guilty verdict Monday in the trial of a Baltimore police officer who was charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray - an incident that sent the city into a period of violence and unrest.
Officer Edward Nero had faced charges including assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment stemming from the April 12, 2015 arrest. Prosecutors said Nero committed a crime when he and other officers detained and handcuffed Gray without having what they claimed was probable cause after he ran from them in a high-crime neighborhood. Nero pleaded not guilty to all charges and his defense argued that he was following his police training during the incident.
The bench trial, presided over by Judge Barry Williams, was chosen in favor of a jury trial by Officer Nero. The trial lasted six days and included testimony from witnesses before closing arguments were given last Thursday.
Gray family attorney, William Murphy, spoke with FOX 5's Bob Barnard outside of the courthouse after the verdict was read and said that Judge Williams' opinion was exceptionally detailed and well-reasoned. "Unless you were in the courtroom and you heard all of the facts, there is no reasonable basis to quarrel with that decision," Murphy said.
"Judge Williams and only a handful of other people - maybe three handfuls of people - actually sat through the whole trial. And so for the rest of the public, rest assured that Judge Williams showed exceptional courage in rejecting public opinion as the basis for his decision and basing his decision only on the evidence that he heard in the courtroom and on the law," he continued. "I applaud Judge Williams for his exceptional courage under fire because he acted in the highest tradition of what a judge ought to be."
"Judge Williams is the assigned representative of this community to carry out his judicial duties responsibly and intellectually correctly and morally correctly. There's no evidence that he did not do that. And so we are to accept his verdict as the final chapter for Officer Nero and we can now switch our attention to the rest of the defendants in this case," he continued.
"This was the American process working as it should work. For the black citizens in Baltimore City - the black judge, who specialized in prosecuting police misconduct cases when he was with the federal government - he knows this area of law inside and out, and he deserves our confidence and our respect as does his decision," Murphy added.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake released a statement following the verdict saying that Officer Nero will now face an administrative review by the police department.
"We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion. In the case of any disturbance in the city, we are prepared to respond. We will protect our neighborhoods, our businesses and the people of our city," she said in a statement.
Nero faced the possibility of 15 or more years in prison for his involvement in the incident. He was the second officer to stand trial in the death of Gray. In December of last year, a mistrial was declared for Officer William Porter - the first of the officers to appear in court to face charges in the Gray case.
25-year-old Freddie Gray died on April 19, 2015, a week after his arrest. His neck was broken in a police transport van while he was handcuffed and shackled. Gray was not, however, restrained by a seat belt while in the van.
Gray's death sparked protests, arson, looting, and rioting in the city of Baltimore. In response, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a citywide curfew and police were faced with nightly standoffs between themselves and protestors. Gray's death was responsible for a spike in violence across the city of Baltimore and prompted Black Lives Matter protests in cities across the nation.
In September of last year, the city of Baltimore agreed to pay the Gray family $6.4 million to settle civil litigation in the case.
The five remaining Baltimore police officers charged in the Gray case will stand trial starting this summer and into the fall. Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., Lt. Brian Rice, Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White are scheduled for court beginning in June. Officer William Porter's retrial is scheduled for September. All of the officers have pleaded not guilty.
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