By Charlene Muhammad CHARLENEM
A judge denied defense attorneys’ requests to acquit a White Cleveland police officer charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter for his part in killing 30-year-old Melissa Williams and 43-year-old Timothy Russell, who are Black.
Michael Brelo’s lawyers argued in their motion to Judge John O’Donnell, who is trying the case instead of a jury at the defendant’s request, that there is insufficient evidence to show that his shots caused the deaths and that prosecutors failed to show that his use of force was not legally justified.
Judge O’Donnell did grant an acquittal on Mr. Brelo’s second request ruling at least 34 of Mr. Brelo’s 49 shots “were reasonable to deal with a perceived threat” during the November 29, 2012 incident in which more than 100 officers and at least 59 law enforcement vehicles chased the couple.
A rational trier of fact could find that “Brelo shot his handgun 49 times; he reloaded twice,” Judge O’Donnell wrote in his April 26 order denying his motion for complete acquittal. The fatal shots to both could only have come from Mr. Brelo’s gun, Judge O’Donnell ruled.
“When they showed Timothy’s and Melissa’s clothes that they had on, it was only one conclusion that I could come with based on the three bullet holes in his wave cap, 27 or so bullet holes in his sweat shirt. They massacred Timothy and Melissa. They massacred them two people, unarmed innocent people! They massacred them,” said community activist Fred Ward.
“To say it was anything other than a massacre and that all the officers that fired shouldn’t be tried for murder is a miscarriage of justice in and of itself,” Mr. Ward told The Final Call.
The sense he got from observations during the three days he attended the trial was an “us against them” demeanor by law enforcement, and particularly the five supervisors who invoked their Fifth Amendment right not to testify, Mr. Ward said.
“I feel the trial is just a dog and pony show,” said John Boyd, former Cleveland City Council candidate.
Mr. Brelo should have been charged with murder, and he shouldn’t be standing trial alone, the long-time community activist told The Final Call. A lot of people are angry about the entire situation in the Black community, he observed, and while he’s not optimistic the outcome will be just, he hopes and prays the cop is held accountable.
“We have an African American mayor. The majority of the city council is African American, and, we are, our condition has not changed and it’s not getting any better, and none of those folks that are in charge with responsibility of looking out for the interest of Black people are doing their job,” he charged.
If Mr. Brelo is convicted, the issue then will be what type of sentence Judge O’Donnell would hand him, said Mariah Crenshaw, another Cleveland community activist.
“Will he give him a month? Will he give him six months? Will he give him the maximum (25 years)? If he’s found guilty, the judge could always suspend the sentence, so finding him guilty may not exactly be the greatest thing on the planet to be jumping up and down about because the judge still has the ability to give him a minimal or minimum sentence for his actions,” Ms. Crenshaw stated.
Meanwhile, community sentiment is very interesting, teetering between a lack of outrage to feeling matters need to escalate if Mr. Brelo walks free.
Mr. Ward noted the media hasn’t been covering the trial as it should, including protests occurring outside the courtroom during the trial. According to Mr. Ward, demonstrators were planning April 27 to camp outside the courtroom from 12 a.m. to noon to bring attention to the trial. They feel it’s very important for Judge O’Donnell to feel the need for justice from the people in Cleveland, he said.
“I really feel that a lot of people, because of the consistent non-indictments and non-charges, have taken on a posture that ‘this ain’t going to be no different. Why bother? It’s going to be the same thing,’ and we’ve got to change that mentality,” Mr. Ward said.
“The Minister (Louis Farrakhan) already teaches us that where there’s no justice, it can lead to insanity,” said Student Minister Michael Muhammad of Mosque No. 18 in Cleveland. “If Mr. Brelo does get off, it’s going to be another log in the fire of the pain of the people that are already suffering, watching their people being brutally executed with no sense of justice or fair dealing being administered.”