Have the Freddie Gray trials been essentially derailed?

With all the frantic activity going on this week I didn’t get the opportunity to revisit the long running saga of the Freddie Gray trials, currently unfolding in the burned out remains of Charm City. As we previously discussed, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby made the decision to not only move forward quickly with charges against six officers involved in Gray’s arrest, but got the trials started in almost breathtakingly short order. This week, the first trial against Officer William Porter (who faced some of the lightest charges) ended in a mistrial. The jury had come back to the judge several times with questions, requests for witness transcripts and complaints that they couldn’t come to a resolution, but had been sent back to work by the judge. In the end, though, they couldn’t reach a consensus and a mistrial was declared.

So what happens next? Nobody seems to be entirely sure. They certainly have the option to take Porter back before the wheel again, but it’s unclear if Mosby really wants to tackle the same job twice unless she thinks her chances will be improved the second time around. There have been private, in chambers meetings taking place this week between the prosecutor and the defense attorneys, but there’s been no answer yet. Even if they are going to run it again, the next question is if they want to move forward immediately and also if that means they need to push back the trials of the remaining officers. The latter is of particular concern because more than a few legal analysts seem to feel that blowing the Porter prosecution may have endangered their chances of bringing in any of the remaining police officers guilty. (Time)

Defense attorneys and law professors generally agree that prosecutors chose to try Porter first because they believed his to be the strongest case, but also because the state hoped it could place Porter on the stand against his fellow officers after the legal case against him concluded. Porter, who faces involuntary manslaughter and other charges, might have been particularly useful in the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the driver of the van carrying Gray after his arrest, experts say. In his trial, Porter testified that he had suggested to Goodson that they take Gray to a hospital after Gray asked for medical attention inside the van, a request that went unheeded.

The question now is whether Goodson’s trial, scheduled to begin on Jan. 6, will move forward as scheduled or whether it will be delayed so that Porter’s case can be retried. University of Maryland law professor Michael Greenberger says moving Goodson’s trial date “arguably deprives the defendant of a right to a speedy trial,” meaning Porter’s case could potentially come after the other five trials.

Mosby has really stepped in it here. If Porter’s case was really the “strongest” one they had and they couldn’t get twelve people from Baltimore to agree on it, this entire show could be in danger of closing early. Further, the odds of getting him to testify against his fellow cops while you’re still trying to send him to prison might be diminished. But this is just the next side show in a circus which seems to be making a mockery of the justice system. In theory, each of the defendants should be getting a unique, impartial hearing and a chance to either clear their name or be found guilty and punished. Have the trials of the rest of them hinge on this one cop’s fate makes the entire process suspect.

How Mosby ever expected to get an impartial jury in Baltimore in the first place remains a mystery. Both sides could have benefited from packing up the whole gang and taking them someplace where there’s at least a chance that you could find some people who had either never heard of Freddie Gray or hadn’t seen enough to form an opinion. (The oil fields of North Dakota might not have been a bad choice.) It seem as if it’s too late for that now, though, so it’s on with the show. If they drop the case against Porter, the remaining five may simply walk. If they push their trails back to go after Porter again and they fail, he has absolutely no incentive to help them. We’ve been saying here from the beginning that this could be a career case for Mosby… perhaps the end of a career.


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