Judge who acquitted 2 officers in Freddie Gray case to decide 3rd cop’s fate

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Protesters rally near the courthouse in Baltimore, Maryland on Wednesday, September 2, 2015, as six Baltimore police officers charged in Freddie Gray's death are due in court.

By Laura Ly and Holly Yan

BALTIMORE (CNN) — The highest-ranking officer charged in connection with Freddie Gray’s death has chosen a trial by judge — the same judge who acquitted two of his co-defendants.

Baltimore police Lt. Brian Rice was one of the three bicycle officers who encountered Gray on April 12, 2015. Shortly thereafter, Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury while in police custody.

Also Tuesday, Judge Barry Williams denied a motion by Rice’s attorneys to dismiss the indictment, paving the way for the trial’s opening statements to begin Thursday morning.

Rice faces several charges, including:

– Involuntary manslaughter

– Second-degree reckless assault/reckless endangerment

– One count of misconduct in office for allegedly arresting Gray without probable cause

– One count of misconduct in office for failing to secure Gray with a seat belt inside a police vehicle.

Same judge acquitted Nero, Goodson

With Rice choosing a bench trial, his case will be heard by Williams. The same judge acquitted Officer Edward Nero and Officer Caesar Goodson on all charges related to Gray’s death.

Of the six officers charged, Goodson faced the most serious charges — including second-degree depraved heart murder. Legal experts have said Goodson’s acquittal could set the tone for the four officers still awaiting trial.

“It does not bode well for prosecution,” CNN legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.

Williams’ verdict in Goodson’s case “sends a message to the public and to the courts and the prosecution that if you can’t convict beyond a reasonable doubt as to a high charge like murder, what does it say about lesser crimes?”

CNN’s Ray Sanchez and Lawrence Crook III contributed to this report.