BALTIMORE (AP) – 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 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 is charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. If convicted on all charges, he faces about 25 years in prison. Porter is the first of six officers charged in connection with Gray’s death to go on trial. Testimony began Dec. 2.
Prosecutors have 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 are expected to begin their case Wednesday, are 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.
After prosecutors rested their case, defense attorney Gary Proctor asked the judge to dismiss the charges. Proctor said the state did not prove criminal negligence. He said there was no testimony that Porter deviated from what a reasonable police officer would do. He also said he couldn’t find a case where failing to seat belt a prisoner resulted in the reckless disregard of human life, which is one of the charges Porter faces. Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams denied the motion.
Proctor and colleague Joe Murtha questioned on Monday 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 a bench, leaving him unsecured by a seatbelt. Porter should have called a medic at that time, prosecutors say.
The state’s last witness before prosecutors rested their case was a criminal justice professor. Michael Lyman of Columbia College in Columbia, Missouri, testified that it is the responsibility of all officers, not just a van’s driver, to make sure prisoners are buckled into seat belts “so they can’t move around, fall down or injure themselves.”
Lyman said buckling prisoners in is important because “their freedom has been taken away from them and they have no ability to take care of themselves.”
A Baltimore Police Department DNA expert testified Tuesday that Gray’s blood was found inside the van, on a bench, a wall and a seatbelt. The autopsy found a laceration on Gray’s head.
Defense attorneys argue Porter thought Gray wasn’t really hurt, but told the driver Caesar Goodson to take 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. 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.”
The judge denied the motion for a mistrial, but told defense attorneys they could introduce the evidence.
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.