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Rice Trial: A feeling of déjà vu

P. Kenneth Burns

Prosecutors and defense lawyers in the trial of Lt. Brian Rice will spend  Wednesday preparing their closing arguments for Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams. They’re scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

Rice is charged with involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office in last year’s death of Freddie Gray from a severe spinal injury suffered while being transported in the back of a police van.

This trial, the fourth of an officer charged in Gray’s death, feels like Groundhog Day: allegations similar to the previous trial, similar evidence, similar witnesses.

Prosecutors say the defendant failed to put Freddie Gray in a seatbelt.  They present evidence that includes general orders guiding seatbelt use. And they show video footage of the day of Gray’s arrest.

After a mistrial and two acquittals in a row, you wonder if prosecutors are going through the motions at this point. 

Defense attorney and legal analyst Warren Brown who has observed all four trials says they are.  And you can tell that by how they handled their last witness Monday, Angelique Herbert, the paramedic that responded to the call for medical help at the Western District station the day Gray was arrested; April 12, 2015.

“They called her to the stand and then they all just agree ‘well, let’s just put her testimony in from the last trial,’” Brown said.  “And really they could have done that on a number of fronts.”

But University of Baltimore Law School Professor David Jaros disagrees. 

He says to say prosecutors are going through the motions is like saying they are not making their fullest effort.

“I think they’re pulling out all the stops and, in fact, they’re making every argument at their disposal; trying to strengthen their case,” he said.

Jaros says Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow’s argument yesterday against including portions of Officer William Porter’s testimony during his trial last December shows prosecutors still have the same passion they had when the trials began.

“I think that’s evidence that they’re really going to raise every argument at their disposal to try to win their case.”

Jaros also says prosecutors have a difficult task at hand; to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rice is criminally responsible for Gray’s death.

Brown contends that if Schatzow or Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe had the sole decision of whether or not to prosecute Rice, they would have thrown in the towel before the trial began.

Attorneys involved in the case cannot comment because of a gag order imposed by Judge Williams.

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