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Jury says it is deadlocked in Officer Porter case, will continue deliberations Wednesday

Jury says it is deadlocked in Officer Porter trial, will continue deliberations Wednesday

Judge Barry G. Williams on Tuesday ordered a deadlocked jury back to work, asking them to try harder to reach a consensus on Officer William G. Porter's guilt or innocence in the death of Freddie Gray.

The 12-member panel is charged with reaching a verdict on four charges against Porter: involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. If they cannot, Williams will be forced to declare a mistrial on the undecided counts, leaving it to prosecutors to decide whether to retry the case.

After 10 hours of deliberations that began Monday afternoon, jury members sent a note to Williams on Tuesday afternoon indicating that they were deadlocked. The panel did not elaborate on whether the members were split on one, some or all of the charges, or which way they were leaning.

Williams, meeting the jurors in open court, instructed them to return to deliberations. He read from a portion of the jury instructions that said the members must come to a unanimous decision in order to reach a conviction or acquittal. Jurors then deliberated for about two more hours before breaking for the day.

They will return Wednesday morning.

The weight of their work in a secluded jury room within the Baltimore Circuit Court could be felt throughout the city.

Gray, 25, suffered a broken neck and severe spinal cord injury in the back of a police transport van after his arrest on April 12. His death a week later prompted widespread protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by the most intense rioting and looting in the city since the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby charged Porter and five other officers in Gray's arrest and death on May 1, and many have watched the proceedings in Porter's trial closely.

A mistrial — and no clear resolution — could ratchet up tensions in the city.

City and police officials in the last week have asked for a "respectful" response to the verdict, but also have prepared for more unrest. Teams of law enforcement officers from outside jurisdictions were seen donning protective gear in the city Tuesday, and schools officials have warned students that they would be held accountable if they participate in any unrest.

That Williams instructed the jury to return to their deliberations and try to break their deadlock was not surprising. Such a move is required before a judge can declare a mistrial, legal experts said.

The judge "basically says, 'Go back and keep trying,'" said Thomas Maronick Jr., another criminal defense attorney in Baltimore.

A judge can declare a mistrial only if a jury insists that it cannot reach a verdict.

A jury must be unanimous in order to reach a verdict on any charge. The jury could reach verdicts on some of the charges but remain deadlocked on others. A conviction or acquittal on one of the charges would stand regardless of whether a mistrial was declared on other charges.

If a mistrial is declared, it would be up to prosecutors to decide whether to put Porter on trial again. In making that decision, prosecutors must weigh their chances of securing a conviction in a subsequent trial, said J. Amy Dillard, associate processor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

"At some point, you reach diminishing returns," Dillard said.

Dillard said deadlocked juries are most common in "cases that pose complex issues."

If Porter's case ends in a mistrial, it could have implications for the legal strategies in the cases against the five other officers, who are set to be tried individually next year in similarly complex cases.

In Porter's trial, the prosecution brought medical experts, policing experts and other witnesses to show that Porter was criminally negligent when he failed to secure Gray in a seat belt in the van or call for a medic when Gray requested one.

The defense brought similar experts, as well as other Baltimore police officers, to show that Porter acted as a "reasonable officer" in his interactions with Gray and that Gray's injury was the result of an accident that Porter could not have prevented.

Prior to announcing it was deadlocked Tuesday, the jury of seven women and five men had spent hours in the jury room — occasionally sending a note to the court asking for water and Post-It notes.

They also asked for a speaker for the computer on which they were allowed to watch and listen to key evidence in the case, including Porter's statement to police investigators and police radio communications from the day of Gray's arrest.

Earlier on Tuesday, Porter's attorneys moved, unsuccessfully, for a mistrial and change of venue based on a letter sent home to parents of city school students on Monday that referred to the possibility of unrest and violence following the verdict in the case. The defense previously argued to move Porter's trial out of Baltimore, saying it would be impossible to seat an impartial jury.

In that letter, Baltimore City Schools CEO Gregory Thornton assured parents that the district is "taking every precaution" to prevent a repeat of the April riots. He warned students that "walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder, and any form of violence are not acceptable."

Gary Proctor, one of Porter's attorneys, said in court — without the jury present — that the judge has been "very diligent" in reminding jurors not to read news accounts or seek information about the case outside of what they heard during the trial. But, he said, the judge never said, "Don't open your child's homework packet."

The defense also asked that jurors be questioned whether they received the letter.

Williams quickly denied the motion, saying that he did not believe Thornton's letter was "an appropriate reason" to grant any of the defense requests and that the jurors had already been thoroughly instructed to only consider what has been presented in court.

Porter's defense could raise Thorton's letter in an appeal if there's a conviction. Such an appeal could rest on the argument that the verdict was not fairly reached, that the jury was swayed by outside influences, or that the case should have been moved out of the city from the start.

krector@baltsun.com

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