We may never know why the jury that sat through Officer William Porter’s trial could neither convict or acquit him.
“I understand you have not reached a unanimous verdict on the four counts… we have a hung jury,” said Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams on Wednesday. With that, he thanked the jury for its service and dismissed them from court. Did it break down along racial lines (eight African-Americans and four whites)? Or was it more nuanced with questions being raised through inquiries about transcripts of what was said that Judge Williams ultimately rejected? When the world heard of the impasse late Tuesday, he asked the jury to work through their differences. They continued grappling with the case Wednesday morning, but things appeared fruitless by lunch time. By 3 p.m., the jury came back without a resolution.
As word filtered out of the courthouse, some felt frustration. Kwame Rose, one the protesters, led the chant: “The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” With a bullhorn in hand Rose urged protesters to move from their confined space to a position at the front of the courthouse. Baltimore Sheriff Deputies warned the group they were in violation of a court order and Rose was one of two people arrested. He was not alone in his frustration. “We wanted all six cops to go to jail, it’s just a travesty. There’s a hung jury and they let the cops get off,” said Lee Patterson who was among the small but vocal group.
It was a delicate dance for people like Tessa Hill-Alston, the head of the Baltimore Branch of the NAACP. “People are in shock…but we have to look forward to the next five trials. Happiness was there for the indictment, and now there is sorrow there for the first trial. We have to go forward without destroying our community.”
This sentiment was echoed via several voices. Richard Shipley, Freddie Gray’s stepfather, spoke for the family, flanked by Gray’s mother, Gloria Darden. “We are not at all upset with them (the jury), and neither should the public be upset. We are hopeful Ms. Mosby (Baltimore State’s Attorney) will retry Officer Porter. We ask the public to remain calm…we are calm and you should remain calm.”
“We are prepared to respond. We will protect our residents, our businesses and we will protect the safety of our first responders,” said Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake during a press briefing following the announcement. She was joined by Police Chief Kevin Davis. "Protesters who are lawfully assembled have a friend in the Baltimore Police…we are here to serve as peacekeepers.”
In and around Baltimore a number of police agencies set up staging areas to deploy into communities where looting and burning occurred in April. Some activists wondered aloud if this was overkill and would the police provoke confrontation. On the ground, a group of activists called for a prayer link, stretching from ground zero (the site of the former CVS, which was burned on North and Pennsylvania Avenues). Though authorities are on edge, groups like this were trying to change the narrative of what went out to the world.
Attorney William “Billy” Murphy who represents the Gray family was circumspect. “Hung juries are not unusual. Approximately five percent of all criminal cases that are tried in the country result in hung juries,” he explained. “Most of them are re-prosecuted. This hung jury is not the end of Officer Porter’s case.”
The Fraternal Order of Police, who funded Officer Porter’s defense, had its own of assessment of today’s ruling. Gene Ryan, the President of the police union, put out this statement, “We must respect the decision despite the fact that it’s obviously frustrating to everyone involved.”
“The citizens of Baltimore wanted the case tried here, the case was tried here," said Warren Alperstein, a defense attorney, who has represented officers before. "A jury of the defendant’s peers was impaneled. Over the objection of the defense and the jury was ultimately was unable to reach a decision in unanimous fashion.
“The citizens got what they wanted. They got their own, their neighbors, and their own community members to sit as jurors. The jury could not reach a unanimous decision," Alperstein continued. "This is what the process is about. This what the constitution says and unfortunate it was not a unanimous. There are going to be many people who are unhappy, but this is the way our system works. “
The next phase will occur on Wednesday when Judge Williams will bring in the various parties to consider a re-trial and adjust the schedules of subsequent hearings.
“I don’t buy the nonsense that this is victory for either side. It’s just a bump on the road to justice and the road to justice has a lot of bumps,” said Murphy who cautioned everyone who has an opinion. “No one should speculate on what this means…hung juries are usually temporary and ultimately verdicts are reached.”