A Baltimore judge is expected to seat a jury Wednesday in the trial of an officer accused in the death of Freddie Gray, a case that sparked protests and riots across the city in April, a court representative said.
The move follows two days of jury selection in which Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams, prosecutors and defense attorneys interviewed nearly 150 prospective jurors en masse in open court and individually behind closed doors.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys are expected Wednesday morning to exercise preemptory strikes to remove eight jurors — four for each side — from the remaining pool of potential jurors. That would clear the way for opening statements to begin in the trial of Officer William G. Porter as early as the afternoon, the court representative said.
The panel will consist of 12 jurors with a certain number of alternates yet to be determined by the court. All will remain anonymous. Williams said Monday that he expected the trial to be completed by Dec. 17.
In pretrial motions, defense attorneys had argued that the trial should be moved because it would be difficult to empanel a fair and impartial jury in Baltimore. Some legal experts expected a lengthier jury-selection process.
“I am surprised they were able to get to a jury so fast,” said Tyler Mann, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in Baltimore. “Judge Williams is one of the most fair judges out there. He is very no-nonsense.”
Porter’s is the first of six consecutive trials of officers facing charges related to the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, 25. Gray died a week after suffering a severe spinal injury while being transported in a police van after he was arrested April 12 for possessing a knife.
Prosecutors say Gray was injured because he was not belted into a seat in the back of the van, as department policy requires, after he had been handcuffed and placed in leg shackles. A medical examiner found that Gray probably fell while the van was turning, accelerating or decelerating, according to reports by the Baltimore Sun.
Porter was among the officers who were called to examine Gray during stops while the van was traveling through the city. Prosecutors say Gray told Porter and another officer twice that he needed a medic, but neither officer sought help. Porter then left the scene to respond to another call.
By the time the van arrived at the Western District police station, Gray was not breathing and was in cardiac arrest, according to charging documents. His death touched off protests and then rioting after his funeral on April 27 that engulfed parts of the city.
Porter’s attorneys say their clients is innocent. They say that prosecutors were too quick to charge the officers involved and that the medical examiner relied too heavily on information from prosecutors in ruling Gray’s death a homicide.
Jury selection opened Monday with an initial panel of more than 70 prospective jurors and continued with a panel 0f 75 jurors Tuesday. Every potential juror but one indicated that he or she had heard of the Gray case, the curfew imposed after the rioting broke out in Baltimore and the city’s $6.4 million civil settlement with his family.
Williams asked both panels a series of questions aimed at ferreting out any potential biases. He asked potential jurors about their interactions with law enforcement, what weight they would accord the testimony of police and whether any had law enforcement connections.
During Tuesday’s pool, two prospective jurors, a black man and a black woman, said they had known Gray. The man also said that he was employed or had immediate family employed in law enforcement and that he had strong feelings about the race, sex, religion or national origin of the defendant, who is black.
More than half of the pool, 46 people, said they had been victims of crime or investigated or incarcerated for a crime. Twenty-two said they had strong feelings about the charges against Porter or police misconduct in general.
Eleven prospective jurors, eight of whom appeared to be white, said they would give more or less weight to the testimony of a police officer. Fourteen people said they or immediate family members were employed by law enforcement.
When prospective jurors flagged issues, Williams would bring them into his chambers for questioning, along with prosecutors and defense attorneys. The procedure was meant to preserve their anonymity.
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.
Sign up for e-mail updates on the Freddie Gray case. We’ll e-mail you new Washington Post stories on the trial as they’re published.