RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
In a surprise move, Baltimore prosecutors have dropped all charges against three officers who still face trial in the death of Freddie Gray. The death of that young black man last year touched off protests that turned violent. State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby had been lauded by some for swiftly charging six officers, but the case has been an uphill battle from the start. NPR's Jennifer Ludden is here with us to talk more about this, and, you know, pretty stunning since there was a courtroom full of people in Baltimore expecting a hearing in the trial of one of these officers.
JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Yes, Renee, the fifth hearing in this long case, and, you know, people have been calling on Marilyn Mosby to drop these charges for a while. But everyone just assumed, well, she's not going to do that. It's just going to continue on. And yet prosecutors made this motion at the very last minute. You know, there were two more officers scheduled for trial. Officer Garrett Miller was up next. And then there was another, Officer William Porter, up for retrial. These were supposed to go all the way through October. And now it's done.
MONTAGNE: Well, of course, one of the questions here was why would you continue when three officers have already been acquitted by a judge, a fourth ended with a hung jury - why are these cases so difficult for prosecutors to deliver on?
LUDDEN: Well, you know, they were charged with proving that, you know, the absence of action contributed to Freddie Gray's death. It wasn't what officers did. It's what they didn't do. They didn't seat belt him into a police van, and they didn't call for medical assistance after Gray, you know, apparently broke his neck in the back of that van. But in, you know, verdict after verdict, three bench trials here, Judge Barry Williams read his verdict from the bench. And they started to sound like chastisements of prosecutors.
He said, you keep wanting me to assume things or presume things. But, you know, after so much testimony, we still don't know exactly what happened in the back of that van, exactly how or when Freddie Gray broke his neck. And he said, you know, not seat belting - that's not a criminal act. That's maybe something for internal discipline. So he gave the message very clearly - you just don't have your case here.
MONTAGNE: Right. And some of it went to motivation on the part of the officers, too...
LUDDEN: Exactly, and how do you prove that? And they didn't.
MONTAGNE: Yes. Well, so now what happens? This is one of the most dramatic criminal cases in the history of Baltimore...
MONTAGNE: ...And, you know, violence came out of this stuff...
LUDDEN: It did. So there is always a sense that a lot was at stake here. You know, there has been a wide gag order on this case ever since the trials began last November. We have not heard from either side. We are about to hear from State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, expected to speak soon. We'll have to see how the community reacts.
You know, many lauded Mosby for bringing these charges, but they were skeptical of the criminal justice system. Also, the three officers who were acquitted are undergoing internal review by outside departments. We'll have to see if they will face any internal discipline for failing to seat belt Freddie Gray.
MONTAGNE: And that's NPR's Jennifer Ludden on news that all charges have been dropped against the three officers left to go on trial in the death of Freddie Gray. Thank you very much.
LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.