There could be a verdict as soon as next week in the first trial related to the death of Freddie Gray in Baltimore. The defense’s case in the trial of Police Officer William Porter, charged with involuntary manslaughter in Gray’s death, concluded Friday.
Gray died earlier this year from injuries he suffered while in police custody, tipping off massive protests.
The crux of the case against Porter centers around three points: At what point did Gray suffer his fatal injury; why didn’t Porter call a medic when asked to by Gray; and why wasn’t Gray seat-belted when it’s a department rule to belt all detainees?
“I think he [Porter] should have called a medic,” said Tessa Hill-Aston, president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP. “There was no way he was in danger from Mr. Gray. He had shackles on. Freddie was the one that needed help and asked for it.”
Defense witnesses argued that detainees are never seat-belted; that Porter acted reasonably, eventually telling his supervisor at the van’s fourth stop that Gray needed a medic; and that Gray received his fatal injury at the fifth stop, rather than between the second and fourth, which prosecution witnesses argued.
When Gray received his fatal injury is important because Porter would be absolved of responsibility if it happened at the fifth stop, which is after Porter says he asked for a medic. The prosecution argued, however, that Gray asked for help, complaining that he “couldn’t breathe,” and that he needed a medic before the fifth stop, when Porter was present. Defense witnesses argued that if Gray’s injury had been as severe as the prosecution claims before the fifth stop, he would have been rendered immobile immediately and there would have been little chance of saving him.
“When you break your neck, there isn’t much movement,” said famed Baltimore defense attorney Warren Brown, who has been following the case. “For the state’s medical examiner to say between stops four and five that maybe Gray was involuntarily thrashing around was totally inconsistent with what the state’s forensic pathologist testified.”
According to Brown, the defense has succeeded in presenting reasonable doubt to the jury.
But University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert said he felt that the prosecution scored highly in its cross-examination of defense witness Timothy Longo, a police chief in Charlottesville, Va.
Porter had testified Wednesday that he didn’t seat-belt Gray because he’d feared for his safety. Said Colbert: “Porter appeared to be in as much danger when he was helping Gray sit on the bench at the fourth stop as he would have been had he decided to seat-belt. That’s a major win for the prosecution.”
During cross-examination of Longo, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow asked, “If danger can rise at any second, then nobody gets seat-belted, right?”
“No,” answered Longo. “It is certainly within the discretion of the officer.”
Longo said Porter acted reasonably by helping Gray when he asked to be helped up and reporting to his supervisor at the fourth stop that Gray needed a medic.
“Is there anything else he could have done?” Schatzow asked.
“He could have gotten on the phone and called a medic,” Longo answered.
But, Colbert explained, it is a long road uphill for the prosecution because it has to prove that Porter was callously acting with disregard.
More than one witness testified that the van driver holds the ultimate responsibility to seat-belt detainees.
“I think all of them are responsible,” said the NAACP’s Hill-Aston. “We'll see what happens in court. But what we do know is that a person is dead, that he wouldn’t be dead if he had received medical attention when he needed it and asked for it.”
With the defense resting its case Friday, closing arguments are set to begin next week.