CLEVELAND — A judge in Cleveland quietly asked questions of attorneys and law enforcement officers on Friday while examining a bullet-riddled car that Cleveland police fired 137 shots at, killing two unarmed suspects after a high-speed chase in November 2012.
Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O’Donnell made the visit, which also included a tour of the crime scene, on the fifth day of trial for Cleveland police officer Michael Brelo, 31, who is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell, 43, and Malissa Williams, 30. Brelo and his defense team chose to have O’Donnell and not a jury decide Brelo’s charges.
Brelo did not attend the site visits Friday afternoon.
Russell’s 1979 Chevy Malibu and two police cruisers, including the one driven by Brelo, were inside a warehouse at the Port of Cleveland, placed in roughly the same position as the end of the chase. The Malibu, in bad shape before the chase, had been reduced to worthless hulk save for its evidentiary value.
From the warehouse, O’Donnell was escorted along a freeway and potholed streets in Cleveland and East Cleveland to retrace the second half of the 20-mile chase route. More than 60 cars and 100 officers were involved in the chase at various points with speeds reaching 100 mph. O’Donnell spent about 20 minutes in the school parking lot as agents from Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation pointed to nails pounded into the asphalt marking where cars ended up that night.
Brelo is the only one of the 13 officers who fired at the car to be charged criminally. Prosecutors allege that Brelo waited four seconds after the first barrage of gunfire had stopped to fire 15 rounds into the car’s windshield, a time when Russell and Williams no longer posed a threat. A prosecutor called the 15 rounds “kill shots” during opening statements on Monday.
Brelo’s defense team has argued that other officers were shooting during Brelo’s salvo and that the threat didn’t end until Brelo turned off the Malibu’s engine and removed the keys, preventing Russell from using the car as a weapon.
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