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Defense attorneys repeat call to remove Freddie Gray case from Baltimore, citing 'media frenzy'

Defense attorneys repeat call to remove Freddie Gray case from Baltimore, citing 'media frenzy'
Thousands participated in protests marches following the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray on April 19. Attorneys for the six police officers charged in Gray's arrest and death are trying to have the case moved outside of Baltimore. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Public interest in the prosecution of six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will make it impossible to seat an impartial jury in the city in time for their trials in October, their attorneys argued in a court filing Monday.

The attorneys wrote that the proceedings should be moved from the city now — without waiting, as prosecutors have suggested, to see how the intense scrutiny of the case plays out.

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"The feeling of unrest among city residents is still chillingly evident as violent crime continues to climb to the highest level in decades, police and community relations remain embattled, and Freddie Gray remains fresh in the minds of Baltimore City citizens," the officers' attorneys wrote.

Mugshots for the six officers "continue to frequent the local newspapers and TV news broadcasts," they wrote, and publicity surrounding the case and the associated unrest "has not subsided and shows no signs of stopping."

The filing is the latest in a back-and-forth argument between attorneys about whether the case should be heard outside Baltimore, where the officers arrested Gray in April.

Gray, 25, died after suffering a severe spinal cord injury in police custody. His death sparked widespread protests against police brutality. On the day of his funeral, the city erupted in rioting, arson and looting.

Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder in Gray's death. Sgt. Alicia D. White, Lt. Brian W. Rice and Officer William G. Porter are charged with manslaughter. Officers Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault.

Attorneys for the officers either declined to comment Monday or could not be reached.

Prosecutors have fought to keep the case in Baltimore. They have sought a protective order that would block the release of any trial evidence and asked for a gag order to prevent attorneys for the defense from talking to the news media.

News organizations including The Baltimore Sun have opposed those efforts.

Rochelle Ritchie, a spokeswoman for State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, said her office had not received the filing Monday evening but will "litigate this matter in the courtroom and not in the media."

Attorneys for both sides have complained repeatedly about media attention.

The defense attorneys raised their concerns again in the filing Monday, when they wrote that a "review of just a sampling of local press through the Baltimore Sun" provides "clear evidence of the daily articles published either regarding the [officers], Freddie Gray, the riots or all of the above."

They also cited the "media frenzy" that they said came after The Sun obtained Gray's autopsy report.

The defense attorneys said that prejudices in the community about the unrest that came following Gray's death can't be separated from the case against the officers, even if prosecutors are right that several factors contributed to the unrest.

"Although there is no question that the general unrest and disenfranchisement of Baltimore City residents stems from a number of social and economic issues, there is no doubt that but for the arrest and subsequent death of Freddie Gray the protests and riots would not have taken place in Baltimore City," the officers' attorneys wrote.

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They also reasserted that there are only 276,029 eligible jurors in Baltimore, while prosecutors have cited a much larger regional population total. They included in their filing a letter from Robb Holt, of the Court Operations Department of the Administrative Office of the Courts, corroborating the number.

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