The judge overseeing the emotionally charged case of a young black man who died in police custody is a former federal prosecutor who used to put dirty police officers on trial.

Friends and colleagues describe Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams, an African-American, as an even-handed judge who has a sense of humor but doesn't tolerate courtroom grandstanding. People on both sides of the Freddie Gray case agree he's the best judge for the job.

Williams will decide perhaps the most important trial in the Gray case. Officer Caesar Goodson faces a second-degree murder charge in the death of Gray, whose neck was broken in the back of a police wagon last spring. Goodson waived his right to a jury in favor of placing his fate in Williams' hands. His trial begins Thursday.