Chris Gordon, William Hennessy
(Courtroom sketches by William Hennessy.)
The trial of two Prince George’s police officers was interrupted today when it was revealed that the judge had previously been married to another Prince George’s police officer – and that the judge's former husband had been convicted of use of excessive force.
The judge's former relationship – which had not been disclosed previously – caused a delay in the trial, in which two officers are accused of second-degree assault and misconduct for beating a University of Maryland student in a melee following a 2010 Duke basketball game.
The judge and the lawyers for both sides recessed to discuss the matter, reports News4’s Chris Gordon.
According a source close to the lawyers in the case, Judge Beverly Woodard decided she felt the prior relationship did not indicate a bias and that the trial could continue. Testimony resumed after Woodard’s announcement.
The revelation surprised the defense team representing Officer Reginald Baker and Officer James Harrison. It was initially disclosed when a reporter covering their trial sent a note to Woodard, asking if she could be fair and if she had disclosed the relationship to defense attorneys.
Neither the prosecutors nor defense lawyers asked for a mistrial.
The judge did not mention the matter in open court and sent the jurors home with her usual admonition not to watch news coverage or read anything about the case.
The trial is expected to conclude with closing arguments tomorrow and then go to the jury.
The trial has had a number of major developments this week: On Wednesday, the most serious charges against the two Prince George's police officers were dropped.
Woodard dismissed first-degree assault charges against Officers Reginald Baker and James Harrison, saying there was insufficient proof that the officers intended to inflict serious and permanent injury on student John McKenna.
Despite that, the county's top prosecutor says she'd bring the charges again.
Angela Alsobrooks told Gordon that she "feels justified" bringing charges of first- and second-degree assault, as well as of misconduct in office.
"I would do it again," Alsobrooks said Thursday during a break in the officers' trial.
"This jury is given the chance to decide what kind of community policing they want," she added.
The officers are accused of beating McKenna with batons during the melee the night of March 3, 2010, and the early morning of March 4. The alleged beating was captured on video, which has become a key piece of evidence in the trial.
Harrison testified that he saw student John McKenna throw a punch at Baker, who used his shield and baton to defend himself.
Harrison said McKenna was aggressive and had clenched fists, holding something he thought might be a weapon. Harrison said he hit McKenna 7 or 8 times, yelling "drop it."
Harrison says the student was subdued and dropped what he was holding: His cellphone.
Harrison had initially denied to an internal affairs investiagtor that he was one of the officers caught on video. He says he worried about losing his house.
One day later, he admitted it to the investigator because, he said, his conscience would not let him live with the lie.