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Tortured twists and turns of the Freddie Gray trials

The six officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray will have separate trials.
Baltimore Police
The six officers accused in the death of Freddie Gray will have separate trials.

  On May 1, 2015 – two weeks after Freddie Gray’s death - Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby stood before the world at the War Memorial to announce charges against six officers she says were responsible for Freddie Gray’s death.

University of Maryland Law Professor Doug Colbert says that was a rare occurrence.

“You must recognize the unusual nature of bringing criminal charges against any of the officers who are from the department that they depend upon for prosecution and ultimately conviction,” he says.

Prosecutors say Gray suffered a broken neck while in the back of a police van that was taking him from the 1700 block of Presbury Street, where he was arrested, to the Western District police station.

Possible doubt

The first trial in the case against Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury last December.  That cast doubt on Mosby’s decision to pursue cases so quickly against Porter as well as Officers Caesar Goodson, Edward Nero, and Garrett Miller; Lt. Brian Rice and Sgt. Alicia White.

Colbert, who has been watching the trials, says prosecutors did not rush to judgment and that a public trial has been healthy for the case.

“It allows community to understand what happened to Freddie Gray and to appreciate the evidence that was presented at trial,” he explains.

Former prosecutor Warren Alperstein, who also has been watching the trials, says it’s too soon to say whether prosecutors erred in pursuing charges.

“It’s hard to pass judgment based on just the results of Officer Porter’s trial,” says Alperstein.

If officers are convicted, he says, the public won’t fault prosecutors. But if there are no convictions “many would argue that the state did in fact fail.”

For now, arguments about whether the state “rushed to judgment,” as well as the trials, remain on hold.

A quicker process

The Court of Appeals ruled in March that Porter can be forced to testify while awaiting his retrial; rejecting arguments that doing so would violate Porter’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Last week, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams granted prosecutors’ request to force Miller to testify against Nero, whose trial begins in May.  Nero’s lawyers say they are waiting for the written opinion in Porter’s case before deciding whether to appeal Williams’ ruling.

Even with the legal maneuvering and apparent delays over the last year, Alperstein says the trials are moving much faster than normal.

“There are many hundreds of defendants who are incarcerated awaiting their trial and that have been jailed awaiting their trial date much longer than the seven months that it took to bring Porter to trial,” he says.

Porter’s new trial has been scheduled for September; ten months since the start of his first trial.  Trials for the others have been scheduled between May and October. But the  dates are subject to change.

Copyright 2016 WYPR - 88.1 FM Baltimore

P. Kenneth Burns
Kenneth Burns is WYPR's Metro Reporter; covering issues that affect Baltimore City, Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties.