Freddie Gray trial: Prosecution rests after 16 witnesses

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

25-year-old's blood was found inside police van on a bench, wall and seatbelt, DNA expert testifies

William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, arrives at a courthouse for jury selection in his trial. (Rob Carr/Associated Press)

Prosecutors in the manslaughter trial of a Baltimore police officer rested their case Tuesday in the same way they began — with testimony that Officer William Porter failed in his duty to ensure the safety of Freddie Gray.

Defence attorneys will start their presentation Wednesday, aiming to expand on the damage they've already done to the state's case. Perhaps most notably, there was an audible stir in the courtroom Monday when the state's star witness, Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan, conceded under aggressive cross-examination that she would not have ruled Gray's death a homicide had the driver of a police transport van followed Porter's instructions and taken Gray to a hospital.
Freddie Gray, 25, was arrested for possessing a switch-blade knife outside a housing project on Baltimore's west side on April 12, 2015. According to his attorney, Gray died a week later from a severe spinal cord injury he received while in police custody. (Murphy, Falcon & Murphy)

The van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, instead picked up a second prisoner and then drove to a West Baltimore police station, where Gray was found unresponsive and paralyzed from a broken neck. He had been in the back of the van for 45 minutes, handcuffed and shackled for most of the ride, and the defence sought to shift blame to Goodson.

Goodson is one of six officers charged and faces the most serious allegation, second-degree "depraved heart" murder. His trial begins next month.

As for Porter, he showed "a callous indifference to life," prosecutor Michael Schatzow said Tuesday.

The defence disagreed.

"There's no testimony that what Officer Porter did was any sort of deviation from what a reasonable police officer would do," defence attorney Gary Proctor said in arguing for dismissal of all charges.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams denied the motion, refusing to throw out the case for the second time in as many days.

The death on April 19 of Gray, a 25-year-old black man arrested after he ran from police in his neighbourhood, set off protests and a riot in the city, and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement.

Protesters were outside the Baltimore courthouse in early September when there was a hearing related to the six police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray. (Kim Hairston/Baltimore Sun/AP)

Porter, also black, is the first officer to face trial, and is expected to take the stand in his own defence.

His jury — seven women and five men — is considering four charges: manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. He could face about 25 years in prison if convicted on all charges.

16 witnesses in 5 days

Jurors heard from 16 state's witnesses over five days and watched Porter's videotaped interview with Baltimore detectives as the prosecutors centred on what he did and didn't do for Gray, who repeatedly asked for medical attention.

"He intentionally didn't call a medic and he intentionally didn't buckle him in a seatbelt," Schatzow said.

The first and last witnesses were police instructors who testified that Porter had a duty under Baltimore Police Department policies to call a medic after Gray requested one and asked the officer to help him off the floor.

Criminal justice professor Michael Lyman also testified that Porter shared with other officers a duty to buckle Gray in, as required by department policy.

The defence suggested that Porter either didn't know or had forgotten those directives.

Prosecutors contend Gray was gravely injured by the fourth of six stops the van made en route to the police station, when Porter opened the doors and lifted him from the floor onto a bench. The defence maintains that Gray's fatal injury came after he last spoke with Porter, at the fifth stop.

Defence attorney Joe Murtha also raised the possibility that a prior back injury might have contributed to Gray's death. The evidence? Gray had told a detective in March, weeks before his fatal encounter, that he couldn't sit up straight in a chair because he had hurt his back.

Murtha's aggressive style drew a warning Monday from the judge, who threatened to hold him in contempt if he didn't stop "testifying," by posing questions about information not in evidence, during his cross-examination of the assistant medical examiner.

Prosecutors had to call Allan back to clarify a statement she'd made under Murtha's questioning, that her autopsy report was theory and not fact. She eventually told jurors that her conclusions were based on medical records, police statements and the autopsy itself.