Jury begins deliberations in Porter trial after hearing contrasting styles of closing arguments

Jury begins deliberations in Porter trial after hearing contrasting styles of closing arguments
Courthouse East, where testimony was heard in the William Porter trial (Brandon Weigel)

The jury began deliberations in the trial of Officer William Porter on Monday afternoon.

Judge Barry Williams advised the jury they are required to continue deliberations at least through 5:30 p.m. today and each day thereafter, but that jurors may work later if they choose.


At 4:30 p.m., jurors sent a note to Williams requesting 12 copies—one for each juror—of transcripts of Porter's April 17 statement to police investigators and of police radio calls on April 12, the day Freddie Gay was injured.

Because written transcripts were not offered into evidence, Williams turned down the request, but said jurors were still free to review the original video and audio recordings.

The trial's 11th day began with closing arguments from the prosecution.

Deputy State's Attorney Janet Bledsoe delivered a strident call for Porter to be held accountable for the death of the 25-year-old Gray.

"He abused his power, he failed his responsibilities, and the state is asking you to hold him responsible," Bledsoe told the jury.

Bledsoe put forth a narrative of inaction and indifference on the day Gray was arrested that she and Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow have worked to weave around Porter during the last two weeks.

At one point Bledsoe held up a seat belt flecked with Gray's blood, cut from the van where she said Gray's neck was snapped during transport to Western District headquarters, saying it was "the very thing that could have saved" Gray.

Porter, she told the jury, put Gray's life immediately at risk when he failed to seat-belt the detainee in the cramped rear of the van and by failing to secure medical help when Gray requested it. Bledsoe said that Porter had ample opportunity to go over the heads of fellow officers who also failed to act and secure medical help for Gray himself.

"How long does it take to click a seat belt, and click a radio to ask for a medic?" Bledsoe asked the jury.

"Is two seconds worth a life? That's all it would have taken," she said.

Bledsoe attacked Porter's credibility, contending that the story he told jurors last week during his testimony was inconsistent with the statements he gave to investigators in the spring.

In particular, Bledsoe attacked Porter's account of a stop by the van transporting Gray at the intersection of Mount and Baker streets. She replayed for the jury video of Porter's testimony about events during the stop side by side with cellphone video shot by Gray's friend Brandon Ross. The discrepancies included the position of Gray when Porter arrived on the scene and Porter's proximity to the van, she told the jury.

"Officer Porter was not telling the truth about his involvement at these scenes," she said.

Bledsoe repeated the prosecution's argument that Gray's critical injury came between the stop where Ross' video was shot and another at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street, where Porter, who was working in a patrol car, responded to a call from van driver Caesar Goodson asking for assistance to check on Gray.


It was at that stop, Bledsoe said, that Gray asked Porter for help and said he couldn't breathe, making the officer immediately responsible for Gray's safety—anticipating the defense's argument that it was Goodson, the van's driver, who had sole responsibility.

At one point Bledsoe painted a gruesome portrait of Gray's final minutes in the van, before he lapsed into a coma from which he never recovered. Someone with the severe spinal injuries Gray was later found to have suffered would find themselves unable to breathe, suffering what one prosecution witness described as a "hunger for air" that would only worsen with time, leading eventually to Gray suffocating.

"When that van door closed on Freddie Gray, that wagon became his casket on wheels," said Bledsoe.

The defense's response, delivered by attorney Joseph Murtha, began by harking back to events in the city during the days between Gray's death and State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby's announcement of charges against Porter and five other officers. It was a period marked by high visibility protests and one night, that of Gray's funeral, of looting and violent clashes with police.

"What the state has done in large part is play on the fears that arose after the death of Mr. Gray," Murtha told the jury, reminding them that they had taken an oath to be impartial.

"I understand there's this need to find someone to hold to account, to hold someone responsible. That's a natural human reaction," he said.

The state's case was, however, a "rush to judgment," he said.

Following these opening remarks, Murtha met Bledsoe's impassioned demand for justice for Freddie Gray with a dispassionate argument for reasonable doubt. He methodically reviewed elements of nearly all of the 28 witnesses who testified.

Murtha returned to earlier attacks on the reliability of prosecution witnesses, focusing particular attention on Det. Syreeta Teel and assistant medical examiner Carol Allan.

Prosecutors have relied on Teel's notes from a phone interview with Porter in April to establish that Gray had said the fatal phrase "I can't breathe," which they assert mandated immediate action from Porter. Murtha called Teel's note-taking into question, saying that she had confused the meaning of Porter's words.

Allan endured the most rigorous attacks of the day from Murtha, who summarized her finding as conjecture specifically designed to meet the demands of the State's Attorney's Office.

"The state wanted its homicide conclusion and Dr. Allan gave it to them," Murtha said.

Murtha also attacked the prosecution's use of the cellphone video shot by Ross, which he said had no evidentiary value other than to try to impugn Porter's credibility.

The theory of Gray's injuries put forward during defense testimony was also repeated, emphasizing the catastrophic nature of Gray's injuries, and contending he could not have been either moving or speaking even a few minutes after they were sustained. Prosecutors have advanced the theory that Gray's injuries, while deadly, took some minutes to render him completely comatose, during which time he pleaded with Porter for help.

Near the end of his arguments, Murtha again drew a distinction between what he called the "academics" of policing and the niceties of written rules and procedures, as opposed to the realities of "patrolling in the Western District."

"There's not one witness that said Officer Porter's actions, or inaction, caused the death of Freddie Gray," Murtha said.


Arguments in the case were concluded by Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow's rebuttal. Again the prosecution displayed high emotion where the defense had been more measured, with Schatzow delivering occasionally sarcastic attacks on Murtha's closing and the defendant's character.

"Callous indifference to life is what killed Mr. Gray," Schatzow said. "Officer Porter has come into court and he has lied to you about what happened."

Schatzow ridiculed the defense's theory of how Gray sustained his injuries, which would have put the event during the time Donta Allen was in the adjoining cell in the back of the van.

"One man gets a broken neck, the other man doesn't get a scratch?" Schatzow asked, incredulous.

Schatzow then took an offended tone as he attacked Porter's assertion that he and Freddie Gray had a relationship of mutual respect.

"Who is he to talk to you or anyone else about how Freddie Gray felt?" Schatzow asked the jury.

"How much respect do you think Freddie Gray had for him . . . lying there with a broken neck?" Schatzow speculated.

Schatzow ended by imagining Gray's last moments before he lost consciousness.

"The last thing he sees are the doors of the van closing. Those were the doors of his life closing," Schatzow said.

Following Schatzow's remarks and a 45-minute recess, Williams gave jurors their final instructions before sending them in to the jury room to deliberate. Porter has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, and misconduct in office.