Officer Porter's supporters 'hoping for the best' after mistrial leaves officer's future unclear

Officer William Porter's supporters are relieved he wasn't convicted, but a possible second trial looms.

Maurice Sessomes said he watched William G. Porter grow up, never giving his parents any problems and eventually becoming a Baltimore police officer in 2012.

Sessomes, who has lived across the street from Porter's family in North Baltimore for 30 years, also watched along with the city and nation as the rookie policeman became the first officer to be tried in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray. Now Sessomes is holding out hope the 26-year-old won't be put on trial a second time.

The jury in Porter's case deadlocked and the judge declared a mistrial on Wednesday. Prosecutors and defense attorneys plan to meet Thursday with Judge Barry Williams to decide on a new trial date.

"It's just a mess. He was an excellent kid," Sessomes said. "It's sad. I'm hoping for the best for him."

Porter testified during the trial that he joined the Police Department to help repair what he saw as a growing distrust between the agency and the West Baltimore community where he was born.

The rift only widened when he and five other police officers were charged in connection with Gray's death seven months ago. Gray, 25, died in April after suffering a severe spinal cord injury as he was transported to a police station. That led to widespread protests against police brutality and rioting, looting and arson on the day of his funeral.

In his only public comments since the trial began, Porter said in an interview Wednesday that "it's not over yet" and declined to comment further.

In court testimony and interviews, Porter and his family, friends and neighbors described an honest officer dedicated to and respected by his community. They expressed a mix of relief and disappointment at the result of the nine-day trial.

"I'm disappointed that it wasn't a not-guilty," said Renea Somerville, a friend of Porter's mother and grandfather who was among a handful of character witnesses who testified in the trial. "He's never, ever been one, even as a child, to hurt anyone or see anyone hurt."

One of the prosecutors, Janice Bledsoe, pointed out during questioning of Somerville and other character witnesses called by defense attorneys that none of them had ever seen Porter as an officer on the beat.

In the Gray case, Porter was charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Prosecutors argued at trial that Porter was criminally negligent in failing to seat-belt Gray during transport, as required by a recently instituted department policy, or call for a medic when Gray requested one.

Porter checked on Gray at least twice as the van made stops on its way from his arrest at Gilmor Homes in Sandtown-Winchester to the police Western District headquarters nearby.

Defense lawyers countered that Porter acted as any reasonable officer would have, and could not have prevented Gray's death.

On the stand, Porter said that he joined the police force to "give people a different perspective" in the West Baltimore neighborhoods where he spent his childhood. He had grown up attending police athletic camps for children. They were free, and his mother, a nurse, didn't have money to pay for other activities, he said.

He recalled encouraging residents of the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood to respect their community and its deep African-American history. He said he would tell them, "You should be proud of where you come from. So you shouldn't litter."

Gary Proctor, one of Porter's defense attorneys, told jurors that his client was a respected officer on the streets he patrolled. In one video of Gray's arrest, someone can be heard appealing to Porter for help as officers shackled Gray and led him into the back of the van.

In his own testimony, Porter said he had a "rapport" and mutual respect with Gray, and that they would talk whenever Gray wasn't "dirty," or carrying drugs. Gray had a history of drug arrests before the encounter that led to his death.

Porter's mother, Helena Porter, told jurors when she was called as a character witness that her son is a peacemaker by nature. Porter often sat with his mother during breaks at the trial.

Somerville, a Howard County Department of Corrections employee who said she considers Porter "like a grandson," called him "an outstanding member of the community." Angela Gibson, a first-grade teacher, called him a type of person who is "very hard to come by."

Porter's aunt, in an interview after the jurors hopelessly deadlocked, expressed relief at their indecision.

"We're very happy about it," said Sylvia Delois Porter. "We prayed about it and I'm very happy about it."

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