[UPDATES THROUGHOUT POST]

Today Judge Barry Williams returned a verdict of not guilty in the “Freddie Gray” trial of Baltimore police officer Edward Nero, reports Justin Felton of the Baltimore Sun.

Nero had been charged with second degree assault, reckless endangerment, and two counts of misconduct in office for his participation in the arrest and transport of Freddie Gray.

Gray had been arrested as part of a crackdown on a high-crime are of the City of Baltimore.  He would suffer a severe spinal injury while being transported in a police van, and would die of his injuries a week later.  After Gray’s death Baltimore was wracked with riots, looting, and arson.

The state’s theory of the case, the rationale for the criminal prosecution, was two-fold. On the second degree assault charge, the legal rationale was that Nero failed to independently determine reasonable suspicion and probable cause for Gray’s arrest, instead relying on the judgment of his superior officer, Lieutenant Brian Rice, and his colleague, Officer Garrett Miller.  On the reckless endangerment charge, the legal rationale was that Nero failed in a legal duty to seat belt Gray.

It was Rice who initiated the pursuit and stop of Gray upon observing Gray flee police observation, and it was Miller who actually made the physical arrest and filed the criminal complaint against Gray.  Both Rice and Miller are also charged with crimes related to Gray’s arrest, and are to be tried later this year.

The police van was driven by Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson.  Goodson has also been charged in this matter, and will be tried later this year.

An earlier “Freddie Gray” trial of police officer William Porter resulted in a hung jury. Porter is scheduled to be re-tried later this year.

*UPDATE 11:22AM by MC* People protesting outside the courthouse.

UPDATE [11:34AM]:

In announcing his verdict of not guilt trial Judge Barry Williams made clear that he found the defense theory of the case to be far more compelling than he did the state’s theory.

It is worth recalling in this context that the state bears the great burden of proving the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. A state can have a more compelling case than the defense and still fail to convict, if they fail to exceed reasonable doubt. A case in which the defense actually has the more compelling narrative means the prosecutors were never even close to obtaining a conviction.

Williams concluded that the state had failed to prove that Nero acted unreasonably. Unreasonable conduct is an explicit element for the reckless endangerment charge, and its absence ensured an acquittal on that charge.

Williams also concluded that only Officer Garrett Miller physically arrested Gray. The second degree assault charge against Nero was premised on the theory that his arrest of Gray was unlawful. The conclusion that Nero did not in fact arrest Gray at all ensured an acquittal on the second degree assault charge.

Williams also dismissed the state’s bizarre legal theory that Nero should be found guilty on the basis of criminal conspiracy, because of his cooperation with Miller and other officers in arresting and transporting Gray.

Williams also noted that this verdict, naturally, applies narrowly to Nero, and has no direct implications for the five other scheduled Freddie Gray trials.

It should be noted, however, that the nature of Nero’s trial does have implications for the scheduled trial of police officer Garrett Miller. Miller testified extensively in the Nero trail, after being compelled to do so following his being granted use immunity by state prosecutors. A consequence of that grant of immunity is that nothing he said on the witness stand can now be used against him in his own trial. That will effectively gut efforts to prosecute Miller.

*UPDATE 12:00PM by MC* Defense attorney Warren Brown provided a great summary of the case:

Here’s what he says:

“The problem is they tried to make a case out of whole cloth with regards to Miller and Nero right from the beginning. They were the face of this case – this Freddie Gray case – because they were the ones who were on video, they were the ones that the public got a whiff of early on and yet, their cases were the weakest cases for the state to present.

I think what happened was is the state’s attorney decided she was going to charge someone and worked back from there. I don’t think she got the evidence and worked up to the conclusion that these individuals should be charged. I think she decided that somebody had to be charged. Obviously, it had to be Nero and Miller because they were the first ones [on the scene], they are on camera, they are these white guys taking down this black guy, and I think that is where they went wrong – right from the beginning in charging Officer Miller and Nero, especially Officer Nero and MIller of these charges.”

[Featured picture source: Baltimore Sun]

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense


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