Friday, May 01, 2015

Baltimore's Prosecutor Faces Big Test 4 Months Into Job

Marilyn Mosby, right, Baltimore City State’s Attorney, holds a press conference regarding the Phylicia Barnes case. At left is Deputy Chief Michael Schatzow. Baltimore’s chief prosecutor is 35 years old, has been on the job for less than four months, and is about to take on the biggest challenge of her career weighing the evidence against six police officers in the death of Freddie Gray and deciding whether they deserve to be criminally charged. (Algerina Perna/The Baltimore Sun via AP)



BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore's chief prosecutor, just 35 years old and on the job for less than four months, is facing the biggest challenge of her career: deciding whether evidence supports criminal charges against police officers in the death of Freddie Gray.
State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby ousted an established white opponent by promising to hold police accountable. She accused him of being too cozy with officers and too out of touch with the citizens of Baltimore. Mosby and her husband, a Baltimore city councilman, are black and live just blocks from the poverty-stricken community where riots broke out Monday following Gray's funeral.
But even her supporters say Mosby's close ties to the community won't save her from criticism. "She better be ready. It's going to be baptism by fire," said J. Wyndal Gordon, a longtime defense attorney in Baltimore who has litigated against officers in excessive-force cases. "How she will handle this will define her administration and the future of that office."
Six officers have been suspended with pay while Mosby decides what to do. Police gave her their internal report Thursday, but her office is conducting its own investigation. She has not announced a timetable for her decision.
Mosby grew up in Boston and met her husband, Councilman Nick Mosby, while they were students at Tuskegee University in Alabama. After clerking at U.S. Attorney's offices in Boston and Washington, she joined the Baltimore State's Attorney's Office in 2005 and moved up the ranks before leaving to work for an insurance company. She defeated incumbent Gregg Bernstein, who outraised her three-to-one, in last June's Democratic primary, and faced only write-in opposition in the general election.
Her official biography declares that "she is the youngest chief prosecutor of any major city in America." "I think it's very unique that a chief prosecutor who — as young as she is, who lives in a community that has a high amount of violence — that's very unique and she's probably the only one in the entire country," Nick Mosby said. "She's from the inner city, she lives in the inner city, she knows the inner city."
Mosby has three legal options: charge the officers, decline to charge them or seek a grand jury indictment. Practically speaking, she is almost certain to seek an indictment, said Andrew Levy, a Baltimore defense attorney and an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland School of Law.
Charging the officers without going to a grand jury would require Mosby's office to persuade a judge that there is probable cause that a crime was committed, a procedural step prosecutors often avoid in high-profile cases. Declining to charge the officers could be seen as a betrayal by the protesters who have flooded city streets since Gray's death.
Mosby could present a grand jury with a menu of potential charges including assault, involuntary or voluntary manslaughter, or even murder. Juries in Baltimore criminal trials tend to be distrustful of police officers, an attitude that could work in Mosby's favor if she decides the officers committed crimes.
"The conventional wisdom would be that a Baltimore city grand jury would not be reluctant to indict a police officer," Levy said. Some of her critics say her campaign pledges and political success could compromise justice in the Gray case.
Warren Brown, a veteran Baltimore defense attorney who supported Mosby's opponent, said the prosecutor's decision would be inextricably linked to her and her husband's political aspirations. He said Mosby is being pressured to indict the officers on murder or voluntary manslaughter charges in Gray's death, which he doesn't think the evidence supports.
"She is a politician; her husband is a politician. This is a watershed event," Brown said. "There's a lot of collateral damage if she does not indict. For her and her husband, they would be drummed out of office. There's no way they could survive in the city, let alone ask people to vote for them at a later date. She's going to find a way."
Brown and Ivan Bates, a former prosecutor and a current defense attorney in Baltimore, both expressed concerns about Mosby's ties to the attorney representing Gray's family, Billy Murphy. Murphy was among Mosby's biggest campaign contributors last year, donating the maximum individual amount allowed, $4,000, in June. He was also on Mosby's transition team after the election, and Bates described him as a mentor to her.
"I think she has too much pressure to not indict, from the pressure of her husband's constituents, of her mentor Billy Murphy, and of the pressure of making sure she wants to hold on to her job in four years," Bates said. "She's going to feel the need to indict."
Mosby's office did not respond to interview requests. In a statement Thursday, she said her office was still investigating and pleaded with the public for patience. When she was elected in November, Mosby told The Daily Record newspaper she was excited for the opportunity "to change what has happened in the community."
"I'm living out my dream to reform the criminal justice system," said Mosby, whose parents and grandfather were all police officers. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake expressed confidence in Mosby on Thursday, while also welcoming a separate investigation by the U.S. Justice Department, now led by Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
"If, with the nation watching, three black women at three different levels can't get justice and healing for this community, you tell me where we're going to get it in our country," the mayor said. Mosby's record in high-profile cases has been mixed thus far.
In January, the morning after she was sworn into office, she announced manslaughter charges against an Episcopal bishop in the hit-and-run death of a cyclist. The bishop, Heather Cook, had not even been arrested when Mosby told a packed news conference that Cook had been drunkenly text-messaging at the time of the crash.
Mosby failed, however, to obtain a third trial for a man accused in the slaying of a teenage honor student from North Carolina. Defense attorneys said the re-indictment violated Constitutional protections against double jeopardy, and a judge threw it out. Her office is pursuing an appeal.
Mosby was also criticized for firing several veteran prosecutors, some of them in the middle of trials. But she drew praise from lawyers for her leadership team. Clergy protesting at her office Wednesday afternoon said they have faith in the prosecutor, but they are demanding swift justice and transparency.
"I support Marilyn Mosby. But now we have to step up and do what we ran on," said the Rev. Delman Coates, a liberal activist who ran last year for Maryland lieutenant governor. "It's about substance, not symbolism. It's not about campaign slogans. It's about delivering for the people."
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