How The Porter Ruling Changes Things

Jan 7, 2016

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams ruled that police Officer William Porter (left) must testify against fellow Officer Caesar Goodson. But attorneys for Porter appealed Williams' decision to the Court of Special Appeals Thursday.
Credit Porter and Goodson: Baltimore Police; Courthouse East: P. Kenneth Burns/WYPR

Lawyers for Officer William Porter requested an injunction Thursday morning to keep him from testifying in the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, one of six defendants in the Freddie Gray case.

The motion filed at the Court of Special Appeals by defense attorney Gary Proctor is an effort to quash a ruling Wednesday by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams forcing Porter to testify. Legal observers say Williams’ decision is unprecedented and hands prosecutors a big victory.

University of Maryland Law Professor Doug Colbert called Porter’s testimony critical in the case against Goodson.

“I don’t know who else is going to be saying the things that the prosecution requires, if not Officer Porter,” he said.

Defense Attorney Warren Brown said Porter has to “give [prosecutors] something.”

Goodson is the second of six officers accused in the death in police custody of Freddie Gray last April. He was driving the van in which prosecutors say Gray suffered a broken neck and faces the most serious charges; second degree depraved heart murder, manslaughter, vehicular manslaughter, second degree assault and misconduct in office.

Williams said before the ruling “it’s a simple decision” but admitted he was in “unchartered territory” because of the circumstances surrounding Porter.

Porter attorneys: Gary Proctor (left) and Joe Murtha
Credit P. Kenneth Burns

Porter’s first trial on involuntary manslaughter and other charges ended last month in a hung jury. Prosecutors have scheduled a re-trial in June.

“We’ve never ever seen a defendant who has a trial forthcoming – pending – required to testify under a grant of immunity,” said Brown. Usually, prosecutors grant immunity before a trial, he said.

Under Judge Williams’ ruling, prosecutors cannot use Porter’s testimony in the Goodson trial against him in June.

Nonetheless, Colbert said the ruling shouldn’t impede prosecutors from trying Porter again.

“The prosecution has sufficient testimony and evidence that it will not be tainted by anything that takes place at Officer Goodson’s trial,” he said.

And Brown warned that while immunity may protect Porter going forward, it “doesn’t protect against what happened in the past.” He could be open to possible perjury charges if his testimony in his first trial varies with his testimony in Goodson’s trial.

Wednesday afternoon, Porter was again on the receiving end of questions from Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow. But unlike the trial in December, Schatzow asked only one question. Will you invoke your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination if called to testify?

Porter simply answered, “yes.”

Whether he will be forced testify now depends on the Court of Special Appeals. And that ruling could delay the start of Goodson’s trial, scheduled for Monday.