After months of public debate about the culpability of six Baltimore police officers in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, a dozen city residents will begin Monday deciding the fate of the first to go to trial.
The verdict they reach — if they do reach one and aren't hung — could have significant implications for the city and for the other five officers.
Attorneys for Officer William G. Porter rested their case Friday, and both sides will present closing arguments Monday. The 12-member jury — four black women, three black men, three white women and two white men — will then begin deliberations on four charges against Porter: involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
It is unknown how long deliberations could last.
The panel, all of whom indicated during jury selection that they were familiar with the case, will be given instructions on the legal meanings of the four charges — which attorneys argued about in court on Friday. They will be asked to set aside their personal feelings about the case, about the protests it kicked up and the rioting that followed, and focus solely on what was presented to them in court.
Over the course of five days, prosecutors called 16 witnesses to show that Porter, 26, was criminally negligent when he failed to secure Gray in the back of a police transport van or call for a medic when Gray asked for one, breaking with police general orders in doing so.
Porter's defense team spent three days and called 12 witnesses, including Porter, to argue that Porter did not believe Gray was seriously injured and had acted as a reasonable officer would in his treatment of Gray.
Gray, 25, was arrested April 12 and suffered a broken neck and severe spinal cord injury at some point during a 45-minute, stop-and-go ride in the back of a police transport van, medical experts have testified. He died a week later.
Medical experts for the prosecution, including state assistant medical examiner Dr. Carol Allan, testified that Gray's death was a homicide resulting in part because Porter and other officers did not get him medical attention when he needed it. The defense brought its own medical experts to rebut that finding, arguing Gray's death was an accident that the officers could have done little to stop.
The defense also brought character witnesses, including Porter's mother, on Friday to portray Porter as an honest and peaceful person.
Helena Porter testified that her son is "a nice guy" who is usually "the peacemaker in whatever situation" he finds himself in.
"He gets along well with the community and all the neighbors," she said on the stand.
Angela Gibson, a friend, referred to Porter as "Will" and said "truthful and honest" people like him are "very hard to come by."
Gray's death sparked citywide protests against police brutality, and his funeral April 27 was followed by rioting, looting and arson in the city.
Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged the six police officers on May 1. They have all pleaded not guilty. The remaining five are scheduled to be tried consecutively over the next several months.
This week, city and police officials asked residents to react "respectfully" when the verdict in Porter's case is handed down. On Friday, the Baltimore Police Department canceled all officer leave next week "out of an abundance of caution" to be "prepared for a variety of scenarios."
Attorneys for the other five officers have been watching Porter's case closely and could shift their strategies based on the jury's findings. Attorneys for all six officers and the prosecutors have been barred by a gag order from discussing the case.
Defense attorneys Joseph Murtha and Gary Proctor painted Porter as a reasonable but junior officer taking cues from his superiors in a dysfunctional department. On Friday, Murtha pushed that idea as he questioned Capt. Justin Reynolds, a Baltimore police commander with experience crafting police general orders.
Reynolds testified that Porter had not only acted reasonably but went "beyond what many other officers would have done" when he helped Gray off the floor of the van at one of the stops and asked him if he wanted to go to the hospital, even though he didn't believe Gray was seriously injured and the van's driver, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., had ultimate responsibility for Gray.
Goodson has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder in Gray's death, and is scheduled to go to trial next, on Jan. 6.
Reynolds said Porter also did the right thing when he told Sgt. Alicia D. White at another stop that Gray needed to go to the hospital.
"An officer expects that when they tell a supervisor something, the supervisor is going to act upon that," Reynolds said.
White has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter in Gray's death and is scheduled to go to trial after Goodson.
Reynolds said it is understood within the department that officers have the right to use discretion when working on the street and sometimes have to break with general orders to do their jobs. "You have to use common sense," he said. "It prevails over everything else."
Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow hammered back, using his cross-examination of Reynolds to return to the prosecution's overarching theme in the case — that it's easy to secure someone in a seat belt or call a medic, and that Porter did neither because he just didn't care about Gray.
Schatzow pointed Reynolds to a portion of the department's general orders that says officers should "adhere resolutely to their requirements." He asked Reynolds whether he was aware that "there is a history of people being injured in police wagons" in Baltimore, and if White should have known Gray needed a medic if an officer such as Porter didn't tell her that, but instead told her that there was a "malingerer in the back" of the wagon and there was "no rush" to get to the hospital.
Schatzow asked if it was reasonable not to secure Gray with a seat belt even though Porter's testimony was that Gray was "not combative, calm, docile."
Murtha objected to most of Schatzow's questions to Reynolds, and Judge Barry G. Williams often sustained the challenges — blocking Reynolds from answering.
Cross-examining the defense's character witnesses, Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe simply asked if they had worked with Porter. They all said they had not.
Doug Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who has been watching the proceedings, said the case boiled down to whether police officers "decide what to do using their discretion, their judgment, their common sense, or whether the police commander tells the officers what they ought to be doing."
"It's a struggle within the Police Department, about who's going to be making those decisions," Colbert said. "The real question is whether what the police have been doing is right or wrong."
After calling a brief recess following Helena Porter's testimony Friday, Williams told the jury about 12:30 p.m. that they were dismissed for the day.
After lunch, he returned to the courtroom and met with the attorneys to hash out the instructions he would give the jury Monday to guide their legal assessment of the charges and whether the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that Porter is guilty.
The prosecution and defense argued over how certain directions should be phrased. Williams said he would consider the arguments over the weekend before finalizing the instructions.
Murtha said prosecutors were wrongly trying to argue that Police Department general orders create a "binding duty" on officers, which he said the defense had disproved through testimony of police experts who said they were mere guidelines. Proctor said "no court in this country has ever found a failure to seat-belt to be manslaughter."
Proctor also said that finding Porter guilty of criminal misconduct for not following department rules would be akin to Williams being held criminally liable for taking the bench at 9:45 a.m. after being instructed by the court's administrative judge to take the bench at 9:30 a.m.
"I have more discretion," Williams deadpanned.
What makes Porter's actions a crime, Schatzow responded, was "nonfeasance" through "willful neglect of duty."
To convict Porter of manslaughter, jurors will need to find that Porter committed a "gross departure from what would be the conduct of a reasonable police officer" in a similar situation.
The maximum sentence for the most serious charge against Porter, involuntary manslaughter, is 10 years in prison. The others carry various penalties, except for misconduct in office, for which a penalty is not prescribed in Maryland law and is at the judge's discretion.