CLEVELAND (AP) — A judge who found a white policeman not guilty in the deaths of two black people in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire says race wasn't a factor in the case or his deliberations before the verdict.
In an interview with Politico published Friday and comments to WKYC-TV the same day, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell acknowledged that race is part of broader social discussions about patrolman Michael Brelo's case, but he said it wasn't something he considered in Brelo's bench trial.
"This case had absolutely nothing to do with race," O'Donnell told Politico. "This case had to do with whether the prosecutor proved beyond a reasonable doubt whether this crime had been committed and had to do with the defendant being legally justified in shooting that night."
O'Donnell last month acquitted Brelo of two counts of involuntary manslaughter, which sparked protests leading to dozens of arrests.
The judge told Politico that the races of the policeman and the two people who were slain following a car chase "never consciously ever entered my thoughts while deliberating."
O'Donnell said he has received complimentary and critical feedback and letters from the public, and he rejects claims in some of those that he and his verdict are racist.
He said prosecutors failed to prove Brelo wasn't legally justified in firing 49 shots at the unarmed suspects, the last 15 while standing on the hood.
"The popular narrative isn't the evidence that I heard," O'Donnell told WKYC.
He said he received no evidence indicating race was a motivation for Cleveland police involved in the shooting.
O'Donnell told Politico he doesn't know if a jury would have reached the same conclusion he did.
Thirteen police officers fired into the car. Brelo was the only one charged because prosecutors said he waited until after the car had stopped and the two people inside it were no longer a threat to fire the last of his rounds. Brelo's attorney's argued it was unclear who fired the fatal shots.