BALTIMORE (Dec. 16, 2015) — [Breaking news alert, posted at 3:42 p.m. ET Wednesday]
The judge has declared a mistrial in the case of Baltimore police Officer William Porter after jurors said they were deadlocked and unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges against him. Porter was one of six officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. Prosecutors will decide whether to re-try the case.
The judge told the prosecution and defense attorneys to appear in administrative court Thursday morning to set a new trial date.
A defense attorney declined to comment, saying he was subject to a court gag order.
[Previous story, posted at 1:53 p.m. ET Wednesday]
Jurors considering the trial of a Baltimore police officer in Freddie Gray’s death told the judge once that they were deadlocked. Time will tell if a third day of deliberations will bring a change.
The jury resumed its talks Wednesday morning in the trial of Officer William Porter, one of six officers charged in the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who broke his neck in April while being transported in a police van, shackled but not wearing a seat belt.
Gray’s death a week after his injury sparked demonstrations and riots and made him a symbol of the black community’s distrust of police. The outcome of Porter’s trial could have a domino effect on the other officers’ cases.
The jury on Tuesday afternoon told a judge that they’d been been unable to reach an unanimous decision on Porter’s charges, but the judge asked them to keep at it.
The jurors resumed deliberating around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, and shortly before lunch asked the judge whether it could receive transcripts of testimony — a request the judge denied, without elaboration. By that time, the jury had deliberated for nearly 14 hours of deliberations over three days.
If the trial ends with a hung jury, prosecutors would have the opportunity to try the case again.
“This would be a game changer,” CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said.
A hung jury may result in a decision to change the venue of the trial, she said, and could affect the cases of the five officers who have yet to be tried, because prosecutors will have planned “to use a lot of this evidence against the [other] defendants.”
Involuntary manslaughter among charges officer faces
Gray’s injury happened as he was being transported following an April 12 arrest. Prosecutors say Porter, one of three black officers charged in the case, was summoned by the van’s driver to check on Gray during stops on the way to a police station.
Prosecutors say he should have called a medic for Gray sooner than one was eventually called and also should have ensured that Gray was wearing a seat belt.
Porter is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
For convictions on some or all of the first three charges, he would face no more than 10 years in prison combined. There is no statutory maximum sentence for the fourth charge, misconduct.
All six officers have been suspended.
Ready for unrest
With a verdict possible this week, the city of Baltimore said it activated its emergency operations center Monday “out of an abundance of caution.”
Last week, Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis cautioned the city to be respectful as the verdict gets closer.
“Whatever the jury decides, we must all respect the process,” the mayor said last week. “If some choose to demonstrate to express their opinion, that is their right, and we respect that right, and we will fight to protect it. But all of us today agree that the unrest from last spring is not acceptable.”
Baltimore police canceled leave for officers who had days off from Monday through Friday. Officers will be scheduled to work 12-hour shifts instead of the usual 10 hours.
All six officers are being tried separately and consecutively. Next up is the van driver, Caesar Goodson, whose trial is set to begin next month. Goodson, a black officer who is the lead defendant in the indictment, is charged with the most serious offense, that of second-degree murder with a depraved heart.
Prosecutors say Gray was arrested April 12 after two police officers on bike patrol made eye contact with him and he took off running.
Officers caught up to him and found a knife in his pants. Gray was arrested on a weapons charge; the police investigation found the knife was illegal under Baltimore city code. A separate investigation by prosecutors determined the knife was a type allowed by Maryland law, and police had no reason to detain him.
Authorities say Porter was not involved until he arrived to look for a possible second suspect and help with crowd control while Gray was put into the van. Gray was unresponsive by the time the van arrived at a police station after making several stops in between.
Porter was at five of six stops, authorities say. Among the main issues in the trial: Porter says Gray asked to be taken to a hospital during the fourth stop, but the prosecution and the defense disagree about whether Gray as injured at that point, and about whether Porter’s decision to not call a medic then was reasonable.
Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant state medical examiner, testified last week that Gray probably received his neck injury before the fourth stop, most likely at some point when the van stopped suddenly.
But two physicians testifying for the defense said Gray’s injury likely happened after the fourth stop. One reason, they said, is that Gray would have been unable to speak at that stop had the injury happened earlier.
Porter conceded that Gray asked for medical help during the fourth stop but said he did not call a medic because Gray didn’t appear to be injured and didn’t articulate what was wrong.
Porter testified he told the driver, Goodson, that Gray had asked to go to a hospital, and Porter emphasized in court that Gray was in Goodson’s custody.
Prosecution: It only takes a click and a call
During Monday’s closing arguments, prosecutor Janice Bledsoe argued that any officer in Porter’s situation would have called for medical assistance once Gray complained.
“‘I need a medic.’ How long does that take?” the prosecutor asked. “How long does it take to click a seat belt and ask for a medic? Is two, three, maybe four seconds worth a life? That’s all it would have taken.”
Prosecutors also argued that Porter could have prevented the injury by ensuring Gray was wearing a seat belt while he was in the van.
But during his four-hour testimony last week, Porter said that of the roughly 150 prisoners he has placed in police wagons since joining the Baltimore Police Department in 2010, none was secured with a seat belt — partly out of concern for officers’ safety while in the wagon’s tight quarters.
Prisoners were never secured with seat belts during field training, and though cadets were instructed to secure prisoners with seat belts, they were not shown how, Porter said.
During his closing arguments, defense attorney William Murtha said the prosecution’s case was full of holes, and that the law requires them to reach a verdict based on the “standard of a reasonable police officer.”
“There is an absolute absence of evidence that officer Porter acted in an unreasonable manner,” he said.
Testimony in the trial began December 2.