Seatbelt Focus Hints at Freddie Gray Acquittal

     BALTIMORE (CN) — A focus on seatbelting requirements at the close of trial Thursday for a lieutenant charged in the death of Freddie Gray hints at a acquittal, an outcome that would be devastating for prosecutors’ winless record in the case.
     Set to decide Lt. Brian Rice’s face Monday, Judge Barry Williams asked many of the same questions he did before acquitting the last two officers on trial.;
     Edward Nero was found not guilty of assault in May, and Caesar Goodson Jr. was found not guilty of murder last month.
     Rice, the highest-ranking of the six officers indicted over Gray’s death last year, faces a top charge of manslaughter.
     Gray, 25, died a week after suffering a catastrophic spinal cord injury during transportation after his arrest to the police station. Though handcuffed and shackled, Gray was not secured in the 45-minute van ride by a seatbelt. Officer Goodson had been driving.
     “So does not seatbelting reach the level of criminality?” Williams asked, a familiar line of questioning in the constellation of cases.
     Williams made clear in the two previous acquittals that he did not believe that not seatbelting and failing to call for medical attention are criminal acts, though they do contravene general orders police are expected to follow.
     “This is a very hard case for the state to win,” said David Jaros, a professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
     Jaros explained that, for Williams to convict Rice, the state would have had to show Rice was aware of the possibility of an injury occurring when he didn’t seat belt Gray.
     Williams skewered Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe at today’s closing arguments while she presented audio selections from cellphone video of Gray’s arrest.
     Though Bledsoe claimed that it was Rice’s voice who was saying, “Jail, jail, jail,” to the crowd, Williams asked for specifics.
     “Did we have anyone identify this voice?” Williams asked.
     Bledsoe admitted there had been no such testimony or evidence presented during the trial.
     The defense faced scrutiny too, though, with Williams interrupting attorney Michael Belsky’s reading of transcripts of voices from the crowd.
     Belsky quoted one bystander who said, “Pop this dumb-ass mother [expletive]. I will bust them.”
     Williams announced at this point that he would not consider any aspect of the closing arguments that were not presented as evidence during the four days of the trial.
     “Both side want me view this in a vacuum,” he said.
     He interrupted Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow at various points as well.
     “The defense said it was the most horrible situation going on,” Williams said. “You’re saying it was a walk in the park.”
     Twice, Williams questioned Schatzow as to whether any of the other officers charged with Gray’s death were present when Rice placed Gray on the floor of the van on his stomach.
     Schatzow said Rice set off the chain of events that led to Gray’s injury and was therefore responsible for its outcome.
     Bledsoe focused on refuting the defense’s claim that the crowd and Gray’s behavior led to Rice’s decision.Belksy spent much of his argument stating Rice’s decisions were those of a “reasonable officer.” He said Gray was in a place of safety when Rice placed him on the floor of the van, and that Gray would not have suffered the injury he did if he had not picked himself from the floor of the wagon.

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