May 19, 2016 / 10:30 AM / 3 years ago

Maryland judge questions prosecution, defense in Freddie Gray death trial

BALTIMORE (Reuters) - The judge who will decide the fate of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of black detainee Freddie Gray grilled a prosecutor on Thursday about the state’s case and questioned assertions made by the defense.

Officer Edward M. Nero is pictured in this undated booking photo provided by the Baltimore Police Department. Baltimore Police Department/Handout via Reuters

During the trial’s closing arguments, prosecutor Janice Bledsoe said that Officer Edward Nero had arrested Gray without justification in April 2015, thereby committing assault. Nero then failed to secure Gray inside a police transport van where his neck was broken, she said.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, who is deciding the case in a bench trial, repeatedly questioned Bledsoe’s arguments that the prosecution was based on case law.

“If you touch someone, it could be assault, it could be a hug,” said Williams.

Asked by Williams why a police officer would put his or her hands on a person, Bledsoe said: “This is Baltimore, people get jacked up all the time.”

Nero, 30, is the second officer to go on trial over Gray’s death. The incident triggered rioting and protests in the majority-black U.S. city and stoked the Black Lives Matter movement.

Nero faces misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

He was among three bicycle officers who chased Gray, 25, after he fled unprovoked in a high-crime area. Gray was arrested and bundled into the transport van while shackled, but was not seatbelted in place as required by department policy.

In his summation, defense lawyer Marc Zayon said Nero had little to do with Gray’s arrest. He also never touched Gray except when he tried to help him find an asthma inhaler and helped lift him into the van once he was shackled.

“Everything here is justified,” Zayon said of Gray’s arrest.

He asserted that Gray’s moving around in the back of the van was an “intervening act” that had contributed to his death. Nero was not involved in Gray’s movement, Zayon added.

Williams, who will hand down his verdict on Monday, reacted with skepticism. “That makes no sense,” he said.

Nero’s partner, Officer Garrett Miller, testified on Monday that he, not Nero, had arrested Gray.

Nero is among six officers charged in Gray’s death. The charges against the others range from misconduct in office to second-degree murder.

The trial of the first officer involved in the Gray case, William Porter, ended in a hung jury in December.

Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington, editing by G Crosse

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