Judge Weighs Manslaughter Evidence Against Ohio Cop

     CLEVELAND (CN) – Attorneys for a police officer who jumped on the hood of a car and fatally shot two unarmed suspects urged a judge to acquit their client, saying it was reasonable for the officer to fear for his life.
     The shooting occurred on Nov. 29 after Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams led Cleveland police on a high-speed, 22-minute car chase in which the suspects’ car backfired several times, causing police to believe that the suspects were shooting at them.
     After forming a blockade around Russell and Williams in the parking lot of an East Cleveland middle school, 13 officers fired a total of 137 shots at the suspects’ Chevy Malibu over 17.8 seconds.
     Michael Brelo, a former Marine, alone faces criminal charges in connection to the shooting.
     Prosecutors say Brelo jumped onto the hood of the suspects’ vehicle as the gunfire was drawing to a close and fired 15 shots through the windshield.
     Neither Russell nor Williams had a gun, however, leading the state to chargfe Brelo with two counts of voluntary manslaughter.
     As the five-week trial in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas drew to a close Tuesday, Brelo’s attorneys urged Judge John O’Donnell not to view Brelo’s actions through the 20-20 vision of hindsight.
     Emphasizing that Brelo acted out of fear, attorneys Pat D’Angelo and Thomas Shaughnessy said Brelo’s actions would have been interpreted differently if investigators found weapons on the suspects.
     The defense pointed to testimony the court heard from their expert, Susan Roe, who undermined the theory that Brelo had inflicted all of the fatal wounds.
     Roe posited that only one of the suspects’ gun wounds could be attributed to a specific angle within a reasonable degree of medical certainty, the defense said, telling O’Donnell that the state was cherry-picking evidence.
     The court must also consider, Brelo’s attorneys said, how the suspects exacerbated the situation and bolstered the officers’ belief of a perceived threat by disobeying police orders.
     Just 2.6 seconds had elapsed between from the last gunshot when Brelo fired off 15 rounds, the defense said, questioning if Brelo could lose the justification of using deadly force to confront a perceived threat in that small amount of time.
     Prosecutors meanwhile called O’Donnell’s attention to the numerous violations of department policy that occurred during the police pursuit that preceded the shooting, calling it a chase “led by everyone and no one.”
     Assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutors Erica Barnhill and Sherrie Royster delivered closings for the state, reminding Judge O’Donnell about the testimony from two Cleveland police officers who said Brelo told them he had been standing on the hood of the car.
     Brelo waived his right to trial by jury, and Judge O’Donnell indicated that he may hold off on issuing his verdict so as not to interfere with Cleveland Police Week, which runs from May 9 to May 17.
     Cleveland Mayor Frank Jackson has urged citizens to remain calm in light of recent public reactions to similar investigations of police conduct in Ferguson, New York and Baltimore.

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