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Baltimore: Freddie Gray case sees hung jury in police officer’s trial

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Posted at 3:30 PM, Dec 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-17 08:23:50-05

BALTIMORE — What happens next is anyone’s guess now that a mistrial has been declared in the case against a Baltimore police officer in the death of Freddie Gray.

William Porter was one of six officers charged in connection with the death of Gray, a 25-year-old who died after sustaining a neck injury while in police custody. Prosecutors will decide whether to retry the case.

“I’m doing well,” Porter told CNN after the deadlock, but declined to comment further when asked for his reaction.

Legal analysts described the mistrial as a major setback for the prosecution that could affect the cases of the other five officers.

Judge Barry Williams will hold one or more scheduling conferences with the prosecution and defense in his chambers to discuss a new trial date, the court’s communications office said.

Next steps

“It’s not over yet,” Porter told The Baltimore Sun in a brief phone conversation Wednesday evening, according to the newspaper.

Bill Murphy, an attorney for Gray’s family, gave a similar assessment to reporters.

“This hung jury does not mean it’s the end of Officer Porter’s case,” he said.

A defense attorney declined to comment, saying he was subject to a court gag order.

Gray’s family thanked jurors for their service and asked the public to remain calm. Reading from a statement, Richard Shipley, Gray’s stepfather, told CNN he is hopeful Porter will be retried.

“We thank this hard-working jury for their service to the public, their quest for justice, their personal sacrifice of their time and effort. We are not at all upset with them, neither should the public be upset. They did the best that they could,” he said.

“We are hopeful that (Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn) Mosby will retry Officer Porter as soon as possible, and that his next jury will reach a verdict. Once again, we ask the public to remain calm and patient, because we are confident there will be another trial with a different jury. We are calm; you should be calm, too.”

The police union said Porter and his attorneys will continue to press for his acquittal.

“When Officer Porter began this journey through the judicial process, we asked that everyone allow him his day in court as is promised to all citizens. Today, seven months later, Officer Porter is no closer to a resolution than he was at that time,” Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #3 President Gene Ryan said.

“Our legal system, however, allows for outcomes of this nature, and we must respect the decision of the jury, despite the fact that it is obviously frustrating to everyone involved.”

‘A game changer’

Mosby was in court when the mistrial was declared and looked visibly upset. Prosecutors, who had planned to use testimony from Porter in their cases against the other officers, appeared exasperated.

“They didn’t offer him immunity. So now, they are in a situation where they have this charged defendant hanging out there, and they can’t force him to testify against these other officers,” CNN legal analyst Sunny Hostin said. “And so, I think that this is, in many respects, a game changer for this prosecution.”

Prosecutors are in “serious trouble,” CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said.

“A hung jury is a defeat for the prosecution, especially when they needed Porter to make some of these other cases,” Toobin said. “Now, it’s not impossible that at least some of these other cases can go to trial without Porter, but his testimony was going to be important.”

Murphy, the Gray family’s attorney, stressed that the hung jury doesn’t mean the case is closed.

“I don’t buy the nonsense that this is somehow a victory for either side. It’s not,” he told reporters. “It’s just a bump on the road to justice, and you know, the road to justice has lot of bumps.”

But prosecutors now have major strategic decisions to make, Toobin said, like whether to keep prosecuting Porter or offer him immunity.

They haven’t spoken to reporters since court adjourned Wednesday.

City heeds calls for calm

Protesters marched in several parts of the city Wednesday night. One group of demonstrators repeated the “Serenity Prayer” as they moved through the streets.

Another group of protesters called police officers racist, chanting, “No justice, no peace” and, “All night, all day, we will fight for Freddie Gray.”

The death of Gray, who was black, ignited a wave of protests as debate surged nationwide over whether police use excessive force, particularly against African Americans.

Riots erupted in Baltimore in April after Gray’s funeral.

Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement calling for calm after the mistrial was declared.

“We will not — and cannot — be defined by the unrest of last spring,” she told reporters Wednesday. “As a community, as a city, we are stronger, and we are united to be better than what some displayed to the world last spring.”

Involuntary manslaughter among charges officer faces

Gray’s injury happened as he was being transported following an April 12 arrest. Prosecutors say Porter, one of three black officers charged in the case, was summoned by the van’s driver to check on Gray during stops on the way to a police station.

Prosecutors say he should have called a medic for Gray sooner than one was eventually called and also should have ensured that Gray was wearing a seat belt.

Porter was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Jurors said Wednesday that they couldn’t reach a unanimous decision on any of the charges against Porter.

For convictions on some or all of the first three charges, he would face no more than 10 years in prison combined. There is no statutory maximum sentence for the fourth charge, misconduct.

All six officers have been suspended. Porter remains suspended without pay, Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said Wednesday.

Asked for his response to a mistrial being declared, Davis said it was “part of the process.”

“The process is ongoing,” he said. It’s not the last time we’ll talk about it. And I think we just have to be consistent, measured and thoughtful as we go forward.”