'How did this happen?'

Within the hour, the recriminations had begun.

Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris called the verdict "a kick in the stomach ... a bad day for us and the Gavin family," and fumed that a guilty verdict should have been a "no-brainer" for the jury.

A shaken Mayor Martin O'Malley said the outcome showed "no respect" for the fallen officer, and asked: "How did this happen?"

Lisa Goldberg has been wondering the same thing ever since.

A career prosecutor with a reputation for coolness under pressure, she sits in her tiny office on the fourth floor of Courthouse East, contemplating a dozen red files full of bloody crimes that make up her caseload.

A defendant does not make it this far - does not arrive on Goldberg's desk, next to the framed pictures of her 4-year-old daughter, in the homicide office - unless the facts are damning.

"They've really come to expect perfection," she says of Baltimore juries, "and police officers are human, so they're never going to get perfection. ... If this verdict is any indication, we have a serious problem.

"I have 12 more cases sitting here waiting to go to trial. And none of them are perfect."

Goldberg thinks back over the past 10 years that she has been a prosecutor and says there has been a definite change in the attitude of jurors.

"If I ever felt the earth move beneath my feet," she says, "it was after the O. J. Simpson trial. We all did, as prosecutors. Things changed dramatically after that. The way average people approach the system is totally different. There's a suspiciousness that wasn't there before."

She is loath to criticize the jury that set Eric D. Stennett free, saying only that "no one knows what a jury goes through to reach a decision, except the jury."

Then, she adds: "We have to find a way to make something good come from this. The death of this officer has to stand for something more than this. It's just been too ugly."

Sun staff writer Caitlin Francke contributed to this article.