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Trial of 1st Baltimore Policeman in Freddie Gray Death Begins

William Porter, right, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, walks into a courthouse with his attorney Joseph Murtha for jury selection in his trial, Nov. 30, 2015, in Baltimore.

Jury selection began Monday in the trial of the first of six Baltimore, Maryland police officers charged in connection with the death of a black man in police custody - a fatality that set off days of rioting earlier this year in the East Coast city and heightened racial tensions across the country.

William Porter is one of six police charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who died in the back of a police van of a severe spinal cord injury after his arrest in April.

Gray's death, following those of black men at the hands of police in other cities, including New York, Ferguson, Missouri and Charleston, South Carolina, gave rise to "Black Lives Matter" - an activist movement that has staged more than a year of protests in U.S. cities.

With a group of 20 protesters outside the Baltimore courthouse Monday, Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams began questioning the first of a pool of 75 prospective jurors about their knowledge of the case. He asked whether anyone had not heard of the death or events surrounding it, including the civil settlement later awarded Gray's family. No one responded.

The judge later said he expected the trial to conclude by December 17.

Porter, who is black, is accused of failing to place the prisoner in a seat belt, and of ignoring Gray's requests for medical attention. Charged with manslaughter and several other offenses, Porter faces more than 25 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

Five other officers - two black and three white - will go on trial separately beginning in January.

Pre-trial defense documents show Porter telling investigators that arresting Gray "was always a big scene," with the officer aware of a previous arrest in which Gray allegedly tried to kick out the windows of a police vehicle.

"We just want fairness and justice for Freddie Gray in a legal, calm way, and the courtroom is where it's happening," Tessa Hill-Alston, president of the city's NAACP chapter, told The Baltimore Sun newspaper.