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A Baltimore judge has set trial dates for the six officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old unarmed black man who sustained a severed spine in the back of a police van in April.
Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams scheduled individual trials on Tuesday, with start dates ranging from November 30 to March 9 for the officers.
The official cause of Gray's death was attributed to a severed spinal cord, but questions remain over the circumstances surrounding the incident. After chasing Gray on foot, police took him into custody and loaded him into a police van, where he then slipped into a coma. He died a week later, on April 19.
Eyewitnesses say police used excessive force arresting Gray even though he did not appear to resist arrest, and that they ignored his requests for medical attention.
Gray's death triggered protests, arson, and rioting across the city in the weeks following, and it fueled a nationwide debate on police brutality and treatment of minorities.
The six officers — Edward Nero, Garrett Miller, William Porter and Caesar Goodson Jr., and Lieutenant Brian Rice and Sergeant Alicia White — were suspended after Gray's death and face charges ranging from second-degree depraved-heart murder to assault and misconduct. Three of the officers are white and three are black.
Porter's case will be the first to go to trial. Prosecutors have argued that he is a key witness against Goodson, the van's driver, and White, and should be tried before them.
Goodson faces the most serious charge, second-degree depraved-heart murder, as well as manslaughter, assault, and misconduct counts. His trial is set to begin on January 6.
White, Porter, and Rice are charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and misconduct. The judge set White's trial for January 25, and Rice's for March 9.
Porter was the only one not to appear at the hearing Tuesday.
Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor, told reporters that prosecutors apparently saw the Porter case as among their strongest and wanted to go with it first.
Miller and Nero are charged with second-degree assault and misconduct. Their trials will begin on February 9 and 22, respectively.
Williams agreed last month to defense motions to hold individual trials. Earlier this month, he denied a request to move the trials to a different city because of intense publicity.
The defense lawyers for the police had previously requested that the trial take place elsewhere, arguing that it would be impossible to convene a fair jury in Baltimore due to the intense publicity and politically charged nature surrounding Gray's death.
"The citizens of Baltimore are not monolithic," Williams told a packed courtroom, after announcing that the trial would take place in the city. "They think for themselves."
Also in early September, Baltimore reached a tentative $6.4 million settlement with Gray's family, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in a statement. She said it was not an admission of liability and will have no effect on the criminal trials of the six officers.
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