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Retrial for officer charged in Freddie Gray’s death set for June

A list of evidence in the Freddie Gray case shows that all six officers charged in his arrest and death have made statements. The officers charged are: Top, from left, Caeser R. Goodson Jr., Sgt. Alicia D. White, Officer Garrett E. Miller.; bottom, from left, Lt. Brian W. Rice, Officer William G. Porter, Officer Edward M. Nero. All have pleaded not guilty. (Baltimore Police / Baltimore Sun)

A Baltimore police officer whose trial in the death of Freddie Gray ended with a hung jury will be retried in June, court officials said Monday, creating questions about whether the state would offer him a deal to testify against other officers in the racially charged case.

Officer William G. Porter faces four counts including manslaughter in the death of Mr. Gray, whose neck was broken, prosecutors say, while he was riding in a police van. Officer Porter’s case, which ended in a mistrial last week, was to be a critical building block for the trials of five of his fellow officers; the state considers him a “material witness” against the van driver, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who faces a far more serious charge of murder and is scheduled to go on trial Jan. 6.

But on Monday, after a private meeting with prosecutors and defense lawyers for Officer Porter, Judge Barry G. Williams of the Baltimore City Circuit Court set June 13 as a new trial date, complicating prosecutors’ plans. Legal experts said prosecutors must decide whether to proceed against Officer Goodson without Officer Porter or whether to offer Officer Porter a plea bargain, or perhaps even immunity, for his testimony in the Goodson trial.

“It’s the ultimate chess match,” said Warren Alperstein, a defense lawyer who attended most of Officer Porter’s trial. “Now what? What happens next?”

The six cases are playing out against the backdrop of intense national debate over race and policing, and cutting any sort of deal with Officer Porter could inflame racial tensions in Baltimore. The death of Mr. Gray, a 25-year-old black man, on April 19 set off the city’s worst riots since the 1968 assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

“Oh, no,” said the Rev. C. D. Witherspoon, who has been leading protests demanding “justice for Freddie Gray,” when he heard of the new trial date. “I was told by the state’s attorney’s office that they needed his testimony in some of the other cases.”

The racial dynamics are complex. Officer Porter is black, as are Officer Goodson and another officer facing trial, Sgt. Alicia D. White. Though Officer Porter is “not a target per se” of activists’ ire, Mr. Witherspoon said, a deal could prompt objections. “I think that people would think there would be more deals cut in the future,” he said. “How you start is how you finish. To be honest, I was hoping that they started off with a conviction. I think the citizens needed that.”

Prosecutors and defense lawyers are barred by court order from talking about the case, and so their strategies are unclear. Officer Porter, 26, took the stand during his trial, telling jurors that he told Officer Goodson that Mr. Gray needed to go to the hospital. He made similar comments in a videotaped interview with internal affairs investigators; Mr. Alperstein said those comments were necessary to “connect the dots” against Officer Goodson.

But legal experts agree that the state cannot compel Officer Porter to testify while charges against him are pending, and it cannot introduce the videotaped interview unless Officer Porter takes the stand. Douglas Colbert, a law professor at the University of Maryland who followed the Porter trial closely, said the June 13 date suggested that prosecutors were trying to make a deal.

“I think it suggests that the prosecution and defense have engaged in discussions, and I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to see Officer Porter testifying for the prosecution,” he said. But he said the state would be unlikely to offer Officer Porter immunity, and instead would push for “an understanding” that charges against him would be reduced in exchange for his testimony.

But there are questions about whether Officer Porter would accept a deal to save himself while testifying against a fellow officer. “The biggest consideration for Officer Porter will be the police code of silence — the pressure placed on every police officer not to testify against another,” Mr. Colbert said.

Officer Porter’s trial featured conflicting medical testimony about how and when Mr. Gray was injured. Prosecutors have also suggested that they want to call Officer Porter as a witness against Sergeant White, facing manslaughter and other charges. He also testified that he told Sergeant White that Mr. Gray needed to go to a hospital.

Without Officer Porter, the state “is between a rock and a hard place,” said David Jaros, an associate professor of law at the University of Baltimore. “This is not a case with loads of evidence; this is a case where they are putting together a narrative. The loss of one significant piece could really topple the whole structure.”

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