Jury Deliberates In Trial For Baltimore Officer Charged In Freddie Gray Death

Dec 14, 2015
Originally published on December 14, 2015 6:45 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In Baltimore, jurors are deliberating in the trial of the first of six police officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray. He's the black man fatally injured in police custody last April. His funeral touched off the largest street riots Baltimore had seen in decades. Officer William Porter is charged with failing to put a seatbelt on Gray in a police van and failing to call him a medic.

In closing arguments today, prosecutors accused Porter of lying. NPR's Jennifer Ludden has been in the courtroom for the duration of the trial. She joins us now from Baltimore. And Jennifer, to start, prosecutors made their closing arguments today before the case went to the jury. What did they have to say about Officer Porter?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Audie, it was really quite a dramatic presentation. Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe played a series of video clips contrasting Porter's interview with police investigators last April and his sworn testimony here at trial. In one case, police investigators had asked Porter if Gray's neck was dangling when he checked on him in a police van. Porter said then he didn't notice, but when he was in court, Porter said that Gray was holding his head upright.

And Porter also told police that he picked Gray up from the floor, but in court, he said Gray helped lift himself. These are crucial points because it gets at whether or not Gray had broken his neck already and was at least partially paralyzed at that point.

Also prosecutors hit this really hard. They - Porter had told a police investigator on the phone that Gray said, I can't breathe. Now, in court, Porter said that was a mix-up. He was talking about Gray's arrest when he wanted an inhaler. But prosecutors said no one had testified hearing Gray say, I can't breathe during his arrest. So prosecutors also - they ridiculed Porter's statement that he did not seat belt Gray because he worried for his own safety even though Gray was handcuffed, shackled and calm at the time. In closing, prosecutor Michael Schatzow told jurors that Porter's callous indifference to human life is what killed Freddie Gray.

CORNISH: So Porter and his defense team - I mean, what did they say to jurors in this case?

LUDDEN: Joseph Murtha basically asked jurors not to get caught up in the passion around police violence. He said, look; you're not making a moral or philosophical decision here but a legal one. He then attacked the state's key witness, the assistant medical examiner who did Gray's autopsy. Murtha accused her of rushing her report and ignoring evidence that contradicted her findings. He said, look; there's still a lot of questions about what exactly happened in the back of that police van. And the state is asking jurors to reach a conclusion based on, quote, "speculation and conjecture."

And Murtha also said jurors should believe Officer Porter and he reminded them that Porter had waived his Miranda rights when he spoke to investigators because he had nothing to hide. Murtha said there is no evidence that Porter caused Gray's death.

CORNISH: As we mentioned at the top, of the violence that was touched off at Gray's funeral, is the city worried about more street protests?

LUDDEN: It is. And it has been making a lot of preparations to try and prevent them, at least to prevent them from turning violent. Last April's violence started with high school students. Today, Baltimore Public Schools sent home a letter warning students not to walk out of class, not to take part in any civil disorders, saying they would face consequences if they did. The city today also opened an emergency operations shelter out of an abundance of caution, the mayor said. And the police department opened its own communications center to share emergency messages just in case there is unrest.

CORNISH: Jennifer, thank you.

LUDDEN: Thank you.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden from Baltimore where a jury's begun deliberations in the manslaughter trial of police officer William Porter, the first of six officers to face charges for the death of Freddie Gray last year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.