For the prosecution, the trial of Officer William Porter may be a matter of all or nothing.
Scheduled to start Monday, Porter faces charges stemming from the death in April of Freddie Gray. His case may have significance for the trials of five other officers.
“If they don’t get him on anything, then it’s going to be hard to get anybody for any of this stuff,” says trial attorney J. Wyndol Gordon.
University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert says the decision to try Porter first was a strategic move by prosecutors.
“The prosecution wants to be able to admit evidence against two of the officers who are charged with the most serious crimes,” says Colbert.
Prosecutors say on April 12, the day of Gray’s arrest, Officer William Porter responded to a call for a “prisoner check” from Goodson who was transporting Gray in the back of a police van.
Charging documents allege that despite Gray’ repeated call for help, neither Porter nor Goodson rendered or requested medical assistance. The Sun reported in September that Porter advised Goodson that Gray needed medical help.
Gray died a week later having suffered a severe spinal injury while in custody.
Goodson’s charges include second degree depraved heart murder; meaning Goodson did not have any regard for Gray’s life.
Porter faces 10 years if convicted of his most serious charge of involuntary manslaughter. Attorney Gordon says a lot will be at stake if Porter reaches that point; he might bargain for a lesser sentence if he cooperates with prosecutors.
Professor Colbert agrees. He adds, however, there will be another element that will weigh heavily on Porter if he is convicted.
“There’s a very strong police culture that tells fellow officers do not testify against another officer,” he says.
Williams Suffers No Fools
Overseeing the proceedings is Judge Barry Williams, who was appointed to the city Circuit Court bench by Gov. Robert Ehrlich in 2005. He was elected to a full 15 year term in the following year.
Gordon says Williams is not an activist judge or a “judge who wanted to live vicariously through the attorneys and just injected himself in the case unnecessarily.” He expects Williams to manage the courtroom as he has since his appointment.
Colbert praises Williams for doing what he says every judge should do.
“He comes to court prepared. He’s a no non-sense judge but he does allow the lawyers to argue their case,” says Colbert who adds lawyers before Williams have to be prepared. “He suffers no fools.”