Jury selection began Monday in the trial of the first of six Baltimore officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, with a judge questioning the first batch of potential jurors in an effort to keep the case in the city.
None of the 75 potential jurors raised their hands when Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams asked if they were unfamiliar with the high-profile case. All also indicated they were aware of the $6.4 million civil settlement the city paid to Gray's family, as well as the curfew enacted amid April's unrest.
Officer William G. Porter, 26, has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment, with prosecutors alleging he failed to get medical help for Gray when Gray complained of injuries after his arrest.
Defense attorneys have repeatedly asked Williams to move the trial out of the city, arguing that publicity surrounding the case and the prospect of additional city unrest could influence the jurors' decision. Williams rejected those requests, saying the trial should be heard by Baltimore jurors, though he also left open the possibility that the case could be moved if an impartial jury couldn't be found.
Protesters' chants from the street could be heard inside the courtroom of the Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. Courthouse, along with the sound of a helicopter. Williams emphasized the importance of civic duty, calling jury duty "an honor" critical for "our society to flourish."
The day's proceedings ended about 5:45 p.m., when Williams told the potential jurors that they should return Wednesday unless otherwise instructed — giving no indication in the courtroom whether any had been dismissed.
A second panel of about 75 potential jurors will be convened Tuesday morning, a court spokeswoman said.
The process offered a glimpse into what is to come. Williams read a list of more than 200 potential witnesses, and told the prospective jurors that the trial would not go past Dec. 17.
After Williams asked a series of introductory questions, he spent the rest of the morning and afternoon questioning the potential jurors individually on their responses. That process took place out of view and earshot of courtroom observers.
Gray, 25, was arrested in West Baltimore on April 12 and driven around in the back of a police transport van for about 45 minutes before arriving at the Western District police station, where he was found to be unresponsive. He died a week later from a severe spinal cord injury sustained in the van.
Rioting broke out on the afternoon of Gray's funeral on April 27, leading Gov. Larry Hogan to call in the National Guard and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to institute a weeklong nightly curfew.
The Baltimore trials have gained national prominence as activists have sought to bring attention to police brutality and to the lack of charges in other cases where young black men have been killed, including Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. The latest case to spark protests occurred in Chicago, where a police officer was charged with first-degree murder more than a year after fatally shooting a 17-year-old boy.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged the six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport on May 1. The charges were condemned at the time by police union officials as a "rush to judgment." Mosby's office would later credit the decision with restoring order to the city.
Porter, who is expected to take the stand, was present at multiple stops of the transport van in which Gray was injured, and prosecutors allege he should have sought medical attention for Gray.
The Baltimore Sun has previously reported that, according to a police review of Porter's statement to detectives, Porter mentioned not being sure whether Gray was faking his injury. His attorneys have cited another portion of Porter's statement, in which he said he recognized Gray "from the neighborhood," and that it was "always a big scene whenever you attempted to arrest Freddie Gray."
Porter's case is being tried first because prosecutors said they consider him a "material" witness against two other officers.
William H. "Billy" Murphy, the attorney for Gray's family, said people in Baltimore should wait for Porter's trial to take place — and for the jury to reach a verdict — before coming to any conclusion as to what that verdict should be.
"We're a city where our criminal justice system has not always been fair, especially to the black community. And we of all people should not be asking for a conviction before hearing from the first witness," he said. "Justice is based on proof or not proof, and only the jury is going to be in a position to know whether the case was proved or not proved."
More than 1,400 juror numbers were called Monday, with the jury pool being ushered into a white marble courtroom adorned with paintings of notable lawyers, including Thurgood Marshall, a Baltimorean who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.
Porter wore a navy suit with a blue dress shirt and gold tie, and took notes on a legal pad next to a small pile of cough drops.
Porter is African-American, as were more than half of the first group of potential jurors.
Porter sat to the left of his attorneys and turned to face the group as Wiliams asked potential jurors a series of questions and requested that they stand and give their juror numbers if they had a response or question.
Among the questions asked was whether they would give "more or less weight" to the testimony of a police officer, to which seven people stood. Twelve said they worked in or had an immediate family member who worked in law enforcement.
The largest number of people — 38 — stood when asked if they had been a victim of a crime or had ever been charged with a crime. Twenty-six people stood when asked if they had strong feelings about the types of crimes Porter was charged with.
Williams has ruled that the jurors will remain anonymous. He denied a defense request to sequester the jury to shield them from outside influence during the proceedings.
At the end of Monday's proceedings, Williams ordered all of the potential jurors to "not discuss anything at all" from the proceedings, whether they had received instructions relieving them of their juror duties or not.
Elsewhere in the courthouse, other cases proceeded with less fanfare. The fact that Porter's trial began as scheduled with jury selection makes it something of a rarity in Baltimore. In many cases, trials are postponed multiple times. Even those that go forward on the day they are scheduled often begin with the judge hearing motions in the case, a phase that was handled in Porter's case through a series of pretrial motions hearings held in recent weeks.
A small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse Monday morning, calling for investment in Baltimore communities and saying they stood with protesters against police violence around the nation. They held signs that said "Stop Racism Now!" and "Baltimore Stands with Minneapolis & Chicago!"
A group of about 50 of them marched Monday evening for more than an hour through the Inner Harbor to Power Plant Live and to City Hall before returning to the courthouse.
The protesters chanted "No Justice, No Peace" and called out several public officials they said had let them down, while carrying signs bearing Gray's name and others they say were victims of police brutality.
Baltimore Sun reporters Alison Knezevich and Colin Campbell contributed to this article.