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Nero’s acquittal fuels Mosby’s critics, admirers

‘She walked on the edge, but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt,’ one criminal defense lawyer says of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, seen at a press conference earlier this month, pursuing charges against six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. But another lawyer says Officer Edward Nero’s acquittal shows Mosby ‘is a prosecutor who is bent on promoting herself rather than the city.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

‘She walked on the edge, but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt,’ one criminal defense lawyer says of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby, seen at a press conference earlier this month, pursuing charges against six police officers in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. But another lawyer says Officer Edward Nero’s acquittal shows Mosby ‘is a prosecutor who is bent on promoting herself rather than the city.’ (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Officer Edward Nero’s acquittal Monday has fueled detractors and admirers of Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby – one year to the month after her impassioned but controversial speech pledging to “deliver justice for Freddie Gray.”

Since that speech, Mosby’s critics have assailed as a rush to judgment the charges she brought against Nero and five other officers last May. Her supporters say the charges – ranging from misconduct in office to second-degree depraved heart murder – are legally valid and necessary to calm a reeling city.

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Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams, in rendering the not-guilty verdict, said Nero neither detained nor arrested Gray and acted as an objectively reasonable police officer in the Gray case – a decision that did not surprise Steven H. Levin, a frequent Mosby critic.

“Ms. Mosby raised expectations by bringing charges against an innocent man,” said Levin, a criminal defense lawyer not involved in the officers’ cases. “Mosby went after a police officer who did his job.”

Mosby was four months into her first term as the city’s chief prosecutor when she stood on the steps of Baltimore’s War Memorial Building to announce the charges and said “to the youth of the city: I will seek justice on your behalf. Your peace is sincerely needed as I seek to deliver justice on behalf of Freddie Gray.”

Levin called the charges against Nero and the other officers unjustified and motivated more by Mosby’s personal aggrandizement than a considered search for justice.

“It’s never a good idea to put someone lacking competence, judgment and experience in a position of power,” said Levin, of Levin & Curlett LLC in Baltimore. Mosby is “a prosecutor who is bent on promoting herself rather than the city,” he added.

Nero’s acquittal on charges of second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office followed a hung jury in Officer William Porter’s trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, second degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. The trials of four other officers, as well as Porter’s retrial, are pending.

Mosby was unavailable to comment Monday as she, as well as the officers’ defense attorneys, are under a gag order issued by Williams.

‘You put up the fight’

J. Wyndal Gordon and A. Dwight Pettit, criminal-defense attorneys and generally not fans of the prosecution, said after Nero’s acquittal that their respect of Mosby has grown despite her courtroom defeats.

Both Gordon and Pettit have represented families of men who died while in police custody. In both cases, Gregg L. Bernstein, Mosby’s predecessor, declined to press charges against the officers.

“She did what we expect our prosecutors to do: You put up the fight; you do what you think is right,” said Gordon, a Baltimore solo practitioner and self-proclaimed “Warrior Lawyer.”

“You don’t win every case that you try,” he added. “No one would have criticized her if she secured a conviction.”

Pettit, who represents plaintiffs in police-brutality cases in addition to his defense work, lauded what he called Mosby’s legally sound prosecutions against the officers, even if the cases have so far resulted in an acquittal and a hung jury.

The indictments and subsequent trials compel police “to slow down and recognize the rights of the citizens.”

Gordon and Pettit, who are not involved in the officers’ cases, also praised Mosby’s War Memorial speech, saying critics who call it more political than legal forget the riots that followed Gray’s death just two weeks earlier.

The May 1, 2015, speech announcing the charges had a “calming effect” on protesters who took to the streets in the belief that no one would be held accountable, Gordon said.

“Marilyn Mosby singlehandedly saved this city from destruction,” he said.

Pettit said he understands the criticism that prosecutors should avoid political speeches.

“She walked on the edge, but I am going to give her the benefit of the doubt,” Pettit said. “When the city is facing a riot, she has to be a politician as well as a lawyer. She had to put her lawyer hat on first, but how do you ask her to remove herself from real life at the same time? It is very difficult to second guess or be a Monday morning quarterback.”

But Gene Ryan, president of the Fraternal Order of Police’s Baltimore lodge, assailed Mosby’s “flawed analysis of the facts” in investigating and pursuing the Gray-related prosecutions.

“The state’s attorney’s office responded to the riots and violence in Baltimore by rushing to charge these officers rashly and without any meaningful investigation,” Ryan said in a statement released minutes after Nero’s acquittal. “They seized a political opportunity and in the process destroyed six lives and demolished the relationship between the Baltimore Police Department and their own office.”

The four other officers still facing trial are Caesar R. Goodson, Garrett E. Miller, Brian W. Rice and Alicia D. White.