Some very unexpected news broke in Baltimore today, with Maryland’s highest court finding that Officer William G. Porter will be forced to testify in the upcoming trials of his fellow cops who were involved in the death of Freddie Gray. This question has been percolating through the court system for a while now and had the potential to hold up, if not derail the rest of the trials scheduled to take place, but now we seem to have reached the end of the line. (ABC News)
Maryland’s highest court has ruled that a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray must testify against his colleagues while he awaits retrial.
The Court of Appeals issued a ruling Tuesday siding with prosecutors who asked a judge to compel William Porter to testify against the five other officers facing charges stemming from Gray’s death. Porter’s first trial ended in a hung jury in December.
When Porter’s first trial resulted in a hung jury I asked about this possibility. It seemed to me that since Officer Porter could easily be facing a retrial and he was involved in the original situation which spurred all of this, any testimony he gave in the subsequent trials of the other officers could be used against him later. This should, in theory, violate his constitutional rights against self-incrimination. It’s a question which the local press covered yet again last week while the state supreme court was hearing arguments over Porter’s refusal to testify. (Baltimore Sun)
At one point, Judge Clayton Greene Jr. asked Porter’s attorney why it’s a problem for Porter to testify as a witness, given that he already testified in December at his own trial, which ended in a hung jury.
“Isn’t the cat kind of out of the bag now?” Greene asked. “What is the harm to Officer Porter if he were to simply tell his story again in multiple trials?”
But Judge Lynne A. Battaglia said prosecutors face a “minefield” of problems in their retrial of Porter if they push forward with him as a witness in the other trials. An attorney for the state’s attorney’s office agreed, saying prosecutors will encounter a “heavy burden.”
Even Marilyn Mosby’s staff sees this as a problem. They clearly want to bring in convictions against the cops to achieve “Justice for Freddie Gray” but if they go too far in putting Porter on the stand and asking him questions which could poison his retrial, all of the subsequent hearings could be in danger as well when they are appealed.
This entire situation has been a mess from the beginning and Mosby has stumbled every step of the way. This state supreme court decision only muddies the waters further and it will likely be a very long time before there’s a final resolution. And keep in mind that the Mayor’s office already paid out a handsome settlement to the Gray family, giving the public (and the jury pool) the impression of an admission of guilt on the city’s part. Even if there was wrongdoing on the part of the police it will be amazing if Mosby ever lands a conviction which sticks.