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Porter’s Fate Now In Jury Hands

P. Kenneth Burns
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

The jury started Monday deciding the fate of police Officer William Porter for his alleged role in the April death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.  Gray died from a broken neck he suffered while in the back of a police wagon.

Officer William Porter is charged with manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Deputy State’s Attorney Janice Bledsoe said Porter only had to take a few seconds to fasten Gray's seat belt and call a medic to save his life.  She told the jury there's no reason not to put a seat belt on someone in the police wagon and that Porter "just didn't care enough."

Bledsoe also passionately attacked Porter’s credibility.  She said Porter told detectives investigating Freddie Gray’s death last April that he heard the 25-year-old say “I can’t breathe” in the back of a police van. But he changed his story on the witness stand.

She also pointed out Porter said on the stand that Caesar Goodson, the van driver, was responsible for Gray. But he referred to Gray as “our prisoner” when he spoke to investigators.

Defense attorney Joe Murtha spent more than an hour delivering closing remarks.  Reminiscent of a school teacher, his points were handwritten on a chart visible only to the jury.  He said the state’s case is based on conjecture and speculation, not evidence.

Murtha called Gray's death a "horrific tragedy" but said that "there is literally no evidence" that Porter's actions in any way caused it. Murtha said expert witnesses disagreed on the timeline of when Gray suffered the injury that eventually killed him, and that constitutes "reasonable doubt."

He also argued credibility was not an issue in the case and that the state didn’t prove Porter acted unreasonably.

But during the prosecution’s rebuttal, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow called Murtha’s argument unreasonable. 

He said credibility is important; pointing to Porter several times during his rebuttal.

Schatzow said the state proved that Porter lied to the investigators and lied on the stand.

Porter has said he thought he was speaking to investigators as a witness, not a suspect.

Schatzow, looking towards Porter, asked if there was one version of the truth when you’re a suspect and another version when you’re a witness. 

In his instructions to the jury, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams told jurors that in order to find Porter guilty of manslaughter they must determine that he acted in a "grossly negligent manner" and "created a high degree of risk to human life."

The judge says the assault charge also requires jurors to find that Porter was grossly negligent, while the misconduct charge requires an "evil motive, bad faith" and "not merely an error in judgment."

The jurors went home at 5:30 p.m. and were to return Tuesday morning.

WYPR’s Joel McCord and Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright 2015 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.