This view from the bench proves illuminating

Meet Edward R.K. Hargadon, Baltimore Circuit judge and, as I've now come to think of him, Trial Whisperer.

Hargadon presided over the non-jury trial of Gahiji Tshamba, the Baltimore police officer, and on Thursday found him guilty of manslaughter in the shooting death of a Marine veteran last year outside a Mount Vernon bar.

Beyond the verdict itself, what's remarkable is the five-page narrative that Hargadon wrote in which he basically takes readers by the hand and walks them through his thought processes on the case. (You can read online here).

Most verdicts come down in fairly dry, checklist fashion. Guilty or not, on which counts, commit to custody, submit to pre-sentencing, so ordered, yadda yadda, and down comes the gavel. Sometimes a judge will be moved to make some remarks — dressing down a defendant, for example, or expressing a frustration with a law — but judges judge; they don't explain.

I've never seen anything like Hargadon's verdict order, with its judge's eye view of the trial. It's that rare legal document that is written in English, and by someone recognizable as human.

Hargadon lets you see the gears working, how he viewed witnesses and their testimony, why one was credible and others were not, who at various points in the escalating fight was the aggressor and who could have backed down. Hargadon even visited the site where Tyrone Brown was killed, which helped him figure out who could see what from where, and match that to what they testified to on the stand.

I still have some questions after reading it, primarily: Why did Hargadon decide to write it? I can't tell you; a court spokeswoman said that he wasn't allowed to talk to me because the case is technically still in progress — Tshamba will be sentenced in August — so he declined my interview request.

But here's what I think: It was a smart way to acknowledge the public's interest in this case, which went beyond Brown's family. Police were watching to see how a fellow officer would be treated. Residents were watching to see if Tshamba was given undue breaks because of his badge.

You hear a lot of suspicion, cynicism and a lack of trust about the criminal justice system around town — whether from those who feel railroaded by it or those who believe it lets criminals off too easily. Right or wrong, the sentiments are out there, they're entrenched and they're not going to go away with a single case, or with a single judge and his five-page explanation.

But I have to think that the way Hargadon laid out his thinking in the Tshamba case has to open some eyes. Here is a judge meticulously going through the witnesses and assessing which to believe and which to reject. Whether you agree or disagree with his conclusions, you at least sense him holding each one up to the light and checking the view from several angles.

It's largely a dispassionate piece of writing, save for a few editorial comments here and there, but the document is unavoidably poignant because you see how at certain points during this alleyway encounter, this all could have ended differently.

If the woman Brown groped had shown some restraint and just accepted Brown's "My bad." If Tshamba hadn't overreacted in defending her from what was hardly the most outrageous assault ever perpetrated on womankind. If Brown had let his sister take him home rather than take this a stupid, drunken situation one fatal step further by pushing Tshamba.

That may be the saddest if — in Hargadon's telling, Brown's sister, Chantay Kangalee, comes off as a straight-thinking, caring sister who tried to quell the craziness of the fight and who — almost — succeeded.

Hargadon found her the most credible witness, a surprising and gratifying twist to the trial. Kangalee originally was slated as a witness for the prosecution, which ended up not calling her because her testimony would seem to give support to Tshamba's version. Ultimately, Hargadon found the officer less than credible, and Kangalee's testimony contributed to the judge's decision to find him guilty of manslaughter.

Trials are messy, unpredictable things. At least this time, though, we had someone picking up the pieces and putting them in some semblance of order.