Prosecutors Rest Case at Trial for Baltimore Officer Charged in Freddie Gray Case - NBC4 Washington

Prosecutors Rest Case at Trial for Baltimore Officer Charged in Freddie Gray Case

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    Bill Hennessy
    Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan on the witness stand. (Sketch by Bill Hennessy)

    The prosecution rested its case Tuesday after calling 16 witnesses in the manslaughter trial of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray.

    Gray was a 25-year-old black man who died April 19, a week after his neck was broken during a 45-minute ride in handcuffs and leg shackles in the back of police van.

    Officer William Porter, who is also black, is charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. If convicted on all charges, he could face about 25 years in prison. Porter is the first of six officers charged in connection with Gray's death to go on trial. His trial began last Wednesday.

    Before prosecutors rested their case, a Baltimore Police Department DNA expert testified that Freddie Gray's blood was found inside a police wagon on a bench, a wall and a seatbelt. Thomas Hebert said samples from eight bloodstains contained Gray's DNA.

    The state's last witness before prosecutors rested their case was a criminal justice professor who testified that it is the responsibility of all officers to ensure that prisoners are buckled into seat belts in transport vans.

    Michael Lyman, a professor of criminal justice at Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, testified that it is the responsibility of all officers, not just the driver, to make sure prisoners are buckled into seat belts so they don't move around, fall down or injure themselves. Lyman testified medical help for Freddie Gray should have been obtained at the nearest medical facility.

    Prosecutors painted Porter as an indifferent officer who didn't call for a medic despite Gray's indication he needed help, and whose failure to buckle Gray into a seatbelt amounted to criminal negligence.

    Porter's attorneys, who will begin their case as early as Wednesday, have started to show their hand by trying to poke holes in the connection between Gray's injury and Porter's role in the van ride that included six stops and concluded with Gray unresponsive on the wagon floor. Porter was present at several stops the van made. The van driver faces more serious charges and will go on trial next year.

    Defense attorneys Gary Proctor and Joe Murtha on Monday questioned the autopsy findings that Gray probably suffered his spinal injury after getting up from the floor of the van and losing his balance.

    Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan testified, and prosecutors contend, that Gray was already gravely injured by the van's fourth stop, when Porter opened the doors and lifted Gray from the floor onto the bench, leaving him unsecured by a seat belt. Porter should have called a medic at that time, prosecutors say.

    Defense attorneys argue that Porter thought Gray wasn't really hurt but told the wagon driver, Caesar Goodson, to drive him to the hospital anyway. Goodson instead picked up a second passenger before delivering both men to the Western District station house.

    Goodson faces the more serious charge of second-degree "depraved heart" murder.

    Murtha, who cross-examined Allan on Monday, asked whether there was any evidence Gray had a pre-existing injury. Allan replied that while she'd discussed the possibility with the state's attorney's office, there was no indication of such an injury.

    The judge sent the jury home for the day and took up legal issues.

    After the jury was excused Monday, Murtha moved for a mistrial, saying prosecutors had withheld evidence that Gray had told a police officer in March, a month before his fatal injury, "I hurt my back. I have a bad back."

    Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams denied the motion for a mistrial and told defense attorneys they could introduce the evidence.

    Williams also denied a defense motion to dismiss the case.

    Proctor said the state's case did not prove criminal negligence. He said there was no testimony that what Porter did was any sort of deviation from what a reasonable police officer would do. He also said he couldn't find a single case where failing to seat belt resulted in the reckless disregard of human life, which is one of the charges Porter faces.

    Now it's the defense's turn to present its case, which could include putting the defendant on the stand. Legal analyst Doug Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law, expects Porter to testify.

    "I think he has explaining to do," Colbert said. "I think the jury will find reasons to connect with Officer Porter's dilemma, but he still must answer the very hard questions that the prosecution will ask him on cross-examination."

    Gray's death prompted nearly a week of peaceful demonstrations before rioting and looting broke out on the day of his funeral. His death became a symbol in the Black Lives Matter movement.