Riveting testimony, contradictory statements, gruesome physical evidence, and scientific theory but, was it enough to convince the jury sitting in judgement of Officer William Porter?
The 26-year-old policeman is charged with manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct, and reckless endangerment in the death of Freddie Gray, 25. Sixteen witnesses later the prosecution has rested its case. Now the defense will have its turn at explaining what happened on April 12.
The bar for bringing a case against any police officer is high. So when Baltimore City’s State Attorney Marilyn Mosby decided to do so early on in her tenure it shocked the system. Prosecutors and police officers are normally on the same side of the law. The charges leveled against six of their own was unprecedented. They came at a time when emotions were high and Baltimore had endured rioting and a curfew. It placated some and angered others.
The dirty business of what officers do when they have a suspect was going to be on full display. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams (who is African American) was an appointee of a Republican Governor. He has been a referee to all sides making sure there would be a racially diverse jury, chastising both sides for “grandstanding” during the case, and keeping all parties on-point for his suggested termination of the case by December 17.
Certain evidence deemed critical to case has been let in, two civilian cellphone videos of Gray’s arrest, and a video deposition by police investigators. The witnesses in this case so far have bolstered the prosecution theory that Porter "criminally neglected his duty."
Jurors heard from police trainers on how Porter was trained and what he was supposed to do when it came to providing medical assistance and strapping individuals in the police van. Gray died a week after sustaining injuries to his spine while in the van. Prosecutors contend he was not properly strapped in.
Porter was at five of the six van stops. While not the arresting officer, he was recognized by civilians who called into question police actions. He seemed to be in places where, had he followed regulations Gray might still be alive.
One of the more damning pieces of testimony comes from his own voice on video tape. Twice Gray asked for help, but Porter took no action. University of Maryland Law Professor, Doug Colbert who has sat through the trial calls this “powerful.”
The most crucial testimony may have come from the Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan. Dr. Allan who has performed some 4,500 autopsies went through excoriating detail on what she did and how she came to her conclusions. In simple terms, Gray suffered an injury similar to shallow water diving accident in a swimming pool. Because officers knew he needed help (Gray told them in the van he needed a medic) and they took no action because they thought he was feigning injury, she ruled it a homicide.
However in cross-examination by the defense there may have been an opening. Dr. Allen admitted there was no way she could tell how Gray fell on the floor on the second and fourth stops. She also acknowledged that had driver Cesar Goodson (who is also charged in the case) heeded Porter's advice and driven directly to hospital Gray’s death would not have been a homicide.
During continued cross-examination, a question about Gray’s prior injuries led to an unusual discovery. The prosecution apparently had been informed by an officer who didn’t work on the case that Gray had trouble sitting up straight because of his injury. Judge Williams ruled the prosecution had committed a discovery violation. The defense asked for a mistrial but Williams denied it.
With the defense’s turn to tell the tale of what happen to Gray a number of things can be expected. First, Porter’s attorneys will likely put on their own experts to refute the prosecution. They will also likely challenge police procedures and who follows them. Character witnesses will be put on the stand to portray the officer as a carrying individual with ties to the community. It has been pointed had he not chosen this profession, he could have easily be on the streets like Gray.
Lastly, Officer Porter may take the stand in his own defense. “It is necessary for him to explain what he said in the interview,” said Colbert. The prosecution will probably point out Porter’s inconsistencies. But the defense has argued already he should not be held responsible for the actions of others.
EBONY.com is on the scene in Baltimore during the trials of the six officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray. We will have continuing coverage as the case progresses. To see previous articles from the trial, click here.