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Trial of first officer in Freddie Gray case set to begin Wednesday

The trial of William G. Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, is poised to begin Wednesday after a 12-person jury of city residents is seated, according to court officials.

The panel's selection and each side's opening statements in the trial will come after two days of jury proceedings Monday and Tuesday, during which Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, prosecutors and defense attorneys questioned members of a 150-person jury pool in an attempt to weed out those deemed biased. The start of the trial in Baltimore also follows months of arguments from defense attorneys that a fair jury cannot possibly be seated in the city, given the high profile of the case and its impact on local residents.

Gray, 25, died from a spinal cord injury suffered in the back of a police transport van after being arrested April 12, prosecutors said. His death a week later sparked widespread protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake instituted a weeklong curfew, and Gov. Larry Hogan called in the National Guard. On May 1, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced a range of charges against the six officers involved in Gray's arrest and transport.

Porter has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. The other five officers have also pleaded not guilty.

Attorneys for Porter and the other officers have argued that potential city jurors would not only have prior knowledge of the case, but could fear that acquitting the officers would cause more unrest. Prosecutors have said city jurors would have to be questioned to see if they could be fair, and Williams agreed.

That process began Monday, when a pool of about 75 potential jurors was questioned by Williams and the attorneys — first collectively in open court and then one by one in a private conference room. The same process was repeated with another 75 potential jurors on Tuesday.

Williams concluded the proceedings Tuesday by telling some of the potential jurors to follow instructions provided to them during their private interviews, as he'd told Monday's jurors. He told other jurors who had not been interviewed in private Tuesday that they were dismissed.

"That means that we thank you for your service, but you will be free to go," he told them. Many showed signs of relief.

Terri Charles, a court spokeswoman, later said that the court would reconvene at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, when the remaining potential jurors from Monday and Tuesday's pools will be reduced to the 12-person jury panel and a small group of alternates. That reduction will occur at least in part through the four "peremptory strikes" that both the prosecutors and Porter's attorneys can make to remove jurors not previously eliminated for a specific cause.

Charles said she did not know how many potential jurors would be called back to the court on Wednesday or how many had been dismissed as of Tuesday.

Based on open-court questioning of the jury pools Monday and Tuesday, everyone seated on the panel jury will have prior knowledge of the case and the citywide curfew that went into effect during the unrest. Most, if not all, will be aware of the $6.4 million civil settlement that the city has agreed to pay Gray's family.

Two people in Tuesday's pool of potential jurors stood when asked if they knew Gray. It was unclear whether they had been dismissed.

Porter's attorneys are likely to ask again on Wednesday for the trial to be moved out of the city, in part to place their objections to a city trial on the record for a possible appeal.

Opening statement from prosecutors and defense attorneys are likely to provide new details about both the state's case against Porter and his defense.

krector@baltsun.com

twitter.com/rectorsun

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