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Prosecutors: Keep Freddie Gray trial in Baltimore — at least for now

Prosecutors say it's too early to decide if an impartial jury can be found for Freddie Gray case.

Prosecutors on Friday urged a Baltimore judge to try six police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray in the city, arguing that it's too early to decide whether jurors here can be impartial.

Defense lawyers have asked for the trials to be moved elsewhere in Maryland, pointing to the high level of publicity the case has received. Deputy state's attorney Janice Bledsoe left open the possibility that the case could still be moved if an impartial jury cannot be seated on the eve of trial.

"Until then, the court should not, as the defendants request, demeaningly prejudge the ability of Baltimore's citizens to fulfill their traditional duty to impartially determine the facts of criminal cases happening within their city," Bledsoe wrote.

The case has already been characterized by a flurry of contentious motions, including a defense request to dismiss the charges because of alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Many of those issues must now be decided by Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, who is handling the case.

Also on Friday, prosecutors asked that the six defendants be tried in two separate groups, with one trial for four officers and another for the remaining two.

Other issues are likely to be litigated as prosecutors on Friday made available evidence in the case — amounting to some 52 gigabytes of digital files — to defense lawyers.

Gray, 25, died on April 19 after suffering a fatal neck injury in the back of a police van a week earlier. The case led to days of protests, and rioting and looting on the day of Gray's funeral.

The driver of the van has been charged with second-degree murder, and three other officers face manslaughter charges. Two other officers face lesser charges.

All six officers have pleaded not guilty, and a trial has been scheduled for October.

Gray's autopsy report, obtained by The Baltimore Sun, showed that he suffered a "high-energy injury" while being transported in the police van. A medical examiner ruled his death a homicide because police failed to follow proper procedures.

Police Commissioner Anthony Batts has ordered an internal affairs investigation to determine whether anyone in his department was responsible for providing the report to The Sun, police spokesman Sgt. Jarron Jackson said Friday.

Prosecutors have argued in court filings that Williams should bar all the trial participants from disclosing information to the public. This week they cited news reports on Gray's autopsy.

Prosecutors have responded to a number of accusations in court filings.

Defense lawyers accused State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby of misconduct for her public announcement of the charges against police and for appearing on stage with Prince, who performed at a surprise concert in Baltimore after the riots.

They also asked the judge to remove Mosby from the case because of alleged conflicts of interest. They point out that Mosby's husband, City Councilman Nick Mosby, represents the district where Gray was arrested and that William H. Murphy Jr., the Gray family's attorney, once represented Mosby and donated to her campaign.

Mosby's office has argued that she restored calm to the city by giving a news conference on the charges that was carried live on cable news, and has flatly denied any misconduct or conflicts of interest.

In a procedural filing, prosecutors are seeking to have Caesar R. Goodson, Sgt. Alicia D. White, Edward M. Nero and Garrett E. Miller tried together, and Officer William F. Porter and Lt. Brian W. Rice to be tried together.

The court filings do not explain the reasoning behind the request, and a spokeswoman for the state's attorney's office declined to comment.

Some legal analysts had expected to see Nero and Miller, the two bicycle officers initially involved in stopping Gray split off from the others who face more serious accusations. They only face misdemeanor charges.

David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore who has been following the case, said prosecutors may be seeking the groupings because the officers have made statements that incriminate each other.

Defendants must be allowed to cross-examine witnesses against them, which cannot happen in a joint trial.

Attorneys for the officers either could not be reached or declined to comment, saying they had not received the latest motions.

In responding to the defense request to move the trial, Bledsoe delved into how the law was applied in other high-profile cases in Maryland and around the country, and the impact of the protests and rioting might have on potential jurors.

She argued that the defense attorneys misunderstood the legal standard for when a case can be moved, noting the difference between a potential juror's knowledge of the case and whether that juror had formed an opinion.

Bledsoe also argued that it could be "months or years" before the cases are concluded, by which time the case may attract far less media coverage.

The defense attorneys argued that the aftermath of Gray's death had touched almost every resident. The rioting caused substantial destruction, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake imposed a weeklong curfew in an attempt to restore order, and the events were covered extensively by national and local news media. In addition, many protesters had called for the officers to be charged, the lawyers wrote, illustrating widespread bias.

Bledsoe pointed out in filings that protests stopped after charges were filed.

"Calls for justice are not the same as calls for vengeance any more than charging is the same as convicting," she wrote.

iduncan@baltsun.com

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