Baltimore Police Officer Edward M. Nero will stand trial before a judge rather than a jury on charges stemming from the arrest of Freddie Gray, clearing the way for the first verdict in the closely watched case as early as next week.
The trial is set to begin in a downtown courtroom Thursday morning and could last five days. Nero, 30, was one of three bicycle officers involved in Gray’s initial detention and arrest on April 12, 2015. He has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
At a pre-trial hearing Tuesday, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams also issued several rulings that will determine what evidence is introduced at trial. For instance, the judge excluded medical testimony on the fatal spinal injuries Gray suffered while in police custody. That evidence figured prominently in the trial of Officer William G. Porter — the only other Baltimore officer to have stood trial in the case to date.
He also barred prosecutors from arguing that a knife clipped to Gray’s pants pocket was legal, making his arrest unjustified. Prosecutors now contend that Gray’s initial detention — before the knife was found — was unwarranted.
By selecting a bench trial, Nero made Williams the sole decider of his legal fate.
Marc Zayon, Nero’s attorney, said he and his client discussed the pros and cons of forgoing a jury “a million times.” Zayon noted that hung juries — like the one in Porter’s trial in December — can lead to prosecutors’ choosing to “try you over and over and over again,” suggesting that Nero saw the bench trial as a quicker path to a resolution.