Rice Trial: Defense has a variety of closing options | WYPR

Rice Trial: Defense has a variety of closing options

Jul 13, 2016

Credit P. Kenneth Burns

In their closing arguments, prosecutors are expected to suggest Lt. Brian Rice, as senior officer, knew more than anyone the dangers of not seat belting Freddie Gray in the back of a police van last year.  Defense attorneys will say Rice was concerned about the safety of his fellow officers and Gray as a crowd at the arrest scene became hostile.

Those arguments are scheduled for 10 a.m. Thursday.

Rice is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office for his alleged role in Gray’s death from a spinal injury suffered while being transported in the police van in April 2015.  

Prosecutors abandoned one count of misconduct before opening statements.  And Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams dropped the charge of second degree assault Monday.  He ruled prosecutors did not present evidence for that charge.

University of Baltimore Law School Professor David Jaros said the state will suggest Rice “had the training and awareness of the risks of not placing Mr. Gray in restraints.” 

Prosecutors also will “suggest that the judge can infer from the surrounding circumstances that Lt. Rice was aware when he failed to seat belt Freddie Gray, when he lifted him inside the van, that he was putting him at risk to physical bodily injury,” Jaros said.

The defense, he predicted, could offer “a variety” of arguments.

“Perhaps their strongest argument will be that there is not sufficient evidence in the record, given the circumstances that surrounded the arrest,” he said.

Lawyers for Rice have argued that when officers detained Gray in the 1700 block of Presbury Street, people from Gilmor Homes had started to gather and accuse officers of mistreating Gray.  And Rice, sensing a hostile scene, had to get officers out of the area for their safety.

Williams said he would render his verdict sometime after closing arguments.  He did not indicate when that would be.

Rice is the third officer in a row to seek a bench trial. Williams acquitted Officers Edward Nero and Caesar Goodson, in May and June respectively, of charges stemming from Gray’s death.

Officer William Porter’s trial, the only one heard by a jury thus far, ended in a mistrial last December after jurors could not agree on a verdict.  Porter is to be re-tried in September.

Remaining officer trials (as scheduled)

Officer Garrett Miller – July 27

Officer William Porter – Sept. 6

Sgt. Alicia White – Oct. 13