Freddie Gray case: Why is it taking so long to find a jury for first cop trial?

Jury selection for the first of six police officers charged in the April death of Freddie Gray continued in Baltimore Tuesday, demonstrating the reach of social media into the US court system. 

Kevin Richardson/The Baltimore Sun via AP
William Porter, right, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, walks into a courthouse for jury selection in his trial, Monday, Nov. 30, 2015, in Baltimore. Porter faces charges of manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

A Baltimore judge resumed jury selection Tuesday in the trial of William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in the April death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.

Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams interviewed 75 jurors Tuesday after everyone in the first jury pool of more than 70 admitted Monday that they were not only familiar with the high-profile case, but also the $6.4 million civil settlement paid by Baltimore to Gray’s family and the civic unrest that followed the 25-year-old’s death. 

The Constitution’s 6th Amendment gives criminal defendants the right to an impartial jury, a right that is getting more difficult and complicated in a media-saturated age.

“Any decision that the jurors make has to come from evidence that they received in the courtroom,” Denver attorney David Beller, the president of the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, told The Denver Post. “When they’re receiving information from outside the courtroom, the judge really doesn’t have much of a choice but to dismiss them.”

In the trial of Aurora movie theater shooter James Holmes, another highly publicized case, the judge dismissed three jurors after they read and discussed outside media reports about the case. 

Two prospective jurors Monday said they had personally known Freddie Gray, 22 said they had strong feelings about police misconduct and 46 said they had either been victims of crime or investigated for a crime themselves. 

But experts say it is possible for jurors to be both impartial and informed.

“In any high-profile case you’re looking for those people who, despite whatever they’ve heard, read or seen, they can still keep an open mind,” Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, a jury consultant who worked on the high-profile murder trials of O.J. Simpson and Scott Peterson, tells Here & Now.

And as the Supreme Court held in the trial of former Enron president Jeffery Skilling, “Prominence does not necessarily produce prejudice, and juror impartiality, we have reiterated, does not require ignorance.” 

William Murphy, the attorney for Gray’s family, says both sides of the case deserve a fair jury selection.

“We’re a city where our criminal justice system has not always been fair, especially to the black community. And we of all people should not be asking for a conviction before hearing from the first witness,” said Murphy. “Justice is based on proof or not proof, and only the jury is going to be in the position to know whether the case was proved or not proved.” 

Judge Williams invited some jurors from Monday back for more questioning, but he issued the requests on paper making the total number of invitations unclear. Despite a second long day of jury interviews, the judge has repeated stated that the case will not go beyond Dec. 17.

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