Last week in Baltimore, the next phase of the highly dubious Freddie Gray trials kicked off. You may recall that Marilyn Mosby’s first at bat last year was against Officer William Porter. That one ended in a mistrial, casting a bit of a pall over the entire lineup. This time she’s going after Officer Edward Nero and, if anything, her prospects are looking even worse. Andrew Branca at Legal Insurrection has a lengthy, detailed analysis of the opening days of the proceedings which is well worth a read in full. Here’s where he sets the stage and describes the key players.
The prosecution is being led by Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow, an attorney with relatively little criminal law experience. Schatzow previously led the failed prosecution of Officer William Porter in the first “Freddie Gray” trial earlier this year. (Porter’s trial ended in a hung jury, and prosecutors have announced they intend to re-try him.)
Nero is being represented by defense attorney Marc Zayon.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, Schatzow’s boss, appears to have no day-to-day role in the prosecution, although she was personally present in the court room’s spectator seats for the first day of trial yesterday.
The first important technical detail which Branca brings up is that Nero has opted for a bench trial, meaning that the case will be heard and decided by judge Barry Williams instead of a jury. This was no doubt a calculated move on the part of Nero’s defense. It was rather amazing that Porter managed to wind up with a hung jury to begin with, and the odds of getting an impartial panel this time around seems slim, particularly considering the toxic atmosphere toward the police which has been cultivated by outgoing Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In this case, Nero is no doubt better off allowing the judge to make the call.
As Branca dives into the details we see that Mosby may have bungled this next phase before she even made it out of the gate. Nero was an odd choice to bring to trial second because of his tenuous involvement in the entire affair. The charges against him are broken out into two phases of the incident. The first is the initial arrest and the second was the process of loading Gray into the police van.
Interestingly, Nero played virtually no role in either of these phases. Rather, Nero’s participation in both phases was almost entirely ancillary. The officer has pled not guilty to all charges.
Nevertheless, here we are.
While each case will have to be decided on its own merits, public perception can never be entirely discounted in high profile trials like these where the entire city is glued to the proceedings. Nero’s limited participation in the arrest (as compared to his colleagues on the scene) makes a conviction here seem even less likely than in the first trial. After striking out against Porter, if Mosby fails to bring in a conviction against Nero the arc of the story begins to change and this entire series of trials may well be seen as more of a political vendetta than a serious attempt at finding “Justice for Freddie Gray.” (You’ll recall that phrase as the clarion call which Mosby issued from the steps of City Hall before the first juror was ever interviewed.)
The current Mayor’s career is essentially over now and if Mosby strikes out entirely, hers may be soon to follow. In the end, the biggest losers in this matter other than Freddie Gray and his family may wind up being the Democrats running the city and not the police.