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Three questions for prospective Freddie Gray jurors

Now that Judge Barry "No Nonsense" Williams has ruled that the six police officers charged in connection with Freddie Gray's arrest and death must stand trial in Baltimore, I'm trying to imagine jury selection — the kinds of questions we might get during voir dire, and the answers we might give. It's a mind game nearly 300,000 jury-duty-eligible Baltimoreans can play.

Over the last two decades, I've been chosen to sit on juries in two criminal cases. One was a drug case, the other an assault. Both times, my fellow jurors and I voted to convict the defendants. So, been there, done that, got the $15 daily jury service pay.

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But the events that followed Gray's death were extraordinary; they shook Baltimore to its core and brought international attention to the long-festering problems of the city's poorest neighborhoods. The trials of Baltimore police officers on criminal charges will arrive in an atmosphere fraught with tension and civic anxiety. That's why the platoon of defense attorneys asked Williams to move the trials of their clients out of the city.

The defense failed in that request — and, the way Williams explained his decision Thursday morning, it didn't even seem like a close call.

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The judge agreed with the prosecution: The only way to determine if all the media coverage of the Gray case has made fair trials in Baltimore impossible for the officers is through voir dire, the questioning of prospective jurors to determine their competency and ability to be objective. Based on what I heard in court, here's what three of the voir dire questions might sound like — along with (because the urge to share is irresistible) the thoughts I might have and the answers I might give.

Question: Has news coverage of Freddie Gray's arrest and death made it impossible for you to render a fair and impartial verdict in this case?

Thoughts: While I've read reports about the circumstances of Gray's death and seen the various videos of his arrest and placement in the police van, I don't know what happened after that. I watched and listened as Marilyn Mosby, the Baltimore state's attorney, very loudly read the charges against the cops on May 1. So I know what they're charged with but have not heard all the specifics. Nor I have I heard the cops' side of the story. I understand the concept of innocent until proved guilty.

Answer: Yes, I followed press coverage. No, it has not made me prejudiced against the defendant.

Question: Are you aware that Baltimore will pay $6.4 million to the family of Freddie Gray to settle all potential civil claims against the city and its police department? And, if so, does knowledge of that settlement make it impossible for you to render a fair and impartial verdict in this case?

Thoughts: Yeah, I know about that. It looks like Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake saw a way of making some peace with the Gray family and its supporters while getting cops who might have been sued by the Gray family off the hook. Politically speaking, it was a two-fer.

Look, I'm not crazy about it. I pay taxes here. But I'm also not crazy about the city paying millions of dollars over the years to settle other lawsuits brought by citizens, mostly African-American citizens, against cops who roughed them up. That's been going on for years, long before we even heard of Freddie Gray. My fellow Baltimoreans should be sick of it.

I respect the cops who try to do the right thing. It's a tough job. We've had a war on drugs for four decades, putting officers in daily contact with people in marginalized neighborhoods, leading to incidents like the one that ended in Gray's death. When Martin O'Malley was mayor of Baltimore, he had the cops arresting people for all kinds of "quality of life" crimes, and that added another layer to the tensions between police and inner-city Baltimoreans. I'm mostly removed from that scene, but I understand the complaints about it. I think it relates back to the war on drugs; we have to find some way of declaring defeat, and moving on. But I'm rambling ...

Answer: I'm aware of the settlement with the Gray family, but I understand the difference between a civil suit against the city and the criminal prosecution of a cop — enough to render a fair and impartial verdict.

Question: Given what happened on April 27, are you concerned that a not-guilty verdict in this case will lead to more rioting in Baltimore, and does that concern make it impossible for you to render a fair and impartial verdict in this case?

Thoughts: You bet I am. Everyone who lives here and owns a house or business here has thought about that. Everyone who cares about Baltimore — as opposed to the snarky trolls who take glee in its problems— wants to see justice done, and the city survive and thrive. Still, because of April 27, the pressure to see convictions is large and real.

Answer: Tough, but not impossible.

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Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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