Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun / AP

Freddie Gray trials to stay in Baltimore, judge rules

Judge says publicity over Gray’s death in custody was worldwide, adds that jurors will be screened for bias

The trials of six police officers charged over the arrest and death of Freddie Gray will be kept in Baltimore, a judge ruled Thursday, explaining that publicity from the case was already worldwide and that potential jurors will be asked whether they have been influenced by the coverage.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams dismissed arguments from the officers' attorneys, who said the days of riots, protests and citywide curfews would make it impossible to choose unbiased jurors. The defense also said the trials should be moved because the city settled with Gray's family for $6.4 million, sending a message that the officers are guilty.

"The fact that the city settled the civil matter doesn't affect the criminal matter," Williams said.

A small group of protesters outside the courthouse cheered when they heard the decision and then chanted, "The trial stays here."

Prosecutors argued that high-profile trials such as those for the Boston Marathon bomber and the D.C. sniper were successfully held locally and that the only circumstance under which a change of venue is appropriate is in "a small community where you have an armed lynch mob at the door," Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow said.

Gray was a 25-year-old black man who died after being injured while in police custody in April. The settlement announced earlier this week sways prospective jurors and indicates "these officers are guilty, and if they are not guilty, why are we paying them $6.4 million?" said attorney Ivan Bates, who argued on behalf of the six officers.

In his argument, Schatzow said the riots were "confined to a relatively small geographic area" and not widespread enough to affect every Baltimore citizen. He dismissed defense arguments that rioting and widespread media coverage will taint the jury pool.

"The sniper case was tried in Montgomery County," he said. "To suggest that a few days of curfew has same impact as 22 days of residents wondering if they'll be shot to death when they walk out of their house is not a fair comparison," he said.

Williams said in this era of worldwide communication, "information is ubiquitous, and every person in the city and state can choose to inundate themselves."

"In this day and age, what does one do with a high-profile case?" he asked.

Police had a soft presence outside the courthouse — no shields, helmets or riot gear — as about 20 demonstrators gathered before the hearing. One was arrested.

The officers were indicted in May and face charges ranging from second-degree assault to second-degree murder.

Gray died on April 19, a week after he suffered a spinal injury in police custody. His death prompted protests and rioting that shook the city and caused millions of dollars in damage and has since come to symbolize the broken relationship between the police and the public in Baltimore and the treatment of black men by police in America.

All six officers — Caesar Goodson, Garrett Miller, Edward Nero, William Porter, Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White — are charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. Porter, Rice and White are also charged with manslaughter, and Goodson faces the most serious charge, second-degree depraved-heart murder.

The Associated Press

Find Al Jazeera America on your TV

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter

Get email updates from Al Jazeera America

Sign up for our weekly newsletter