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Prosecutors: Judge could consider convicting Cleveland officer of lesser offense in shootings

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CLEVELAND — A judge could consider lesser charges against a policeman for his role in the fatal shootings of two unarmed people in a car in a 137-shot barrage of police gunfire, according to a motion filed Friday by prosecutors, who insisted they've proved their case.

Testimony in the bench trial of patrolman Michael Brelo concluded Thursday. Brelo is charged with two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the fatal shootings of driver Timothy Russell and passenger Malissa Williams on Nov. 29, 2012, after a high-speed chase.

Thirteen officers fired at the car in a school parking lot that night, but only Brelo was charged criminally because prosecutors said he fired his final 15 shots after the car had stopped and Russell and Williams no longer were a threat to officers' lives.

The prosecutors' motion was filed in response to an attempt by Brelo's attorneys to have the judge who's deciding the case dismiss the charges. Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John P. O'Donnell said Friday in court that he would render his verdict within the next several weeks.

A spokesman for the county prosecutor's office said the motion was meant to remind the judge that he could convict Brelo on lesser charges that include involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault if he decides the state did not prove the original charges. That reminder is routine, the spokesman said, and is typically included in jury instructions before deliberations.

Brelo's attorneys argued at trial that other officers fired during his final volley and their shots could have been fatal. Attorney Patrick D'Angelo declined to comment about prosecutors' motion on Friday.

The judge also said on Friday that he was aware of city and county officials' concerns about the possibility of a violent response to his verdict. Protests in Baltimore after Monday's funeral for Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured in police custody, erupted into rioting and looting.

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