Attorneys for William Porter present evidence of Freddie Gray's prior back issues

Courthouse East, where testimony was heard in the William Porter trial
Courthouse East, where testimony was heard in the William Porter trial (Brandon Weigel)

On Monday, the subject of whether or not Freddie Gray may have had a pre-existing back problem was brought up repeatedly by defense lawyers for Officer William Porter. By the end of the day, it became clear they were sitting on evidence to that effect which had not previously been made public, according to WBAL radio and other news sources.

After dismissing the jury for the day, Judge Barry Williams held a bench conference to discuss the entry into evidence of statements from an earlier case involving Gray in which he complained to police about back issues, the reports said.


Rumors that Gray had back problems and even previous surgeries circulated over the summer, but this is the first time anything concrete on the matter has come to light.

Reports indicate that lawyers for Porter accused prosecutors of withholding exculpatory evidence, but Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow indicated the prosecution had only learned that day of the statements from the previous case. The judge did not sanction prosecutors, and the trial is expected to proceed as planned on Tuesday.


The late-day revelation was the bookend to an eventful day in court that began with the replacement by an alternate of a juror who had a medical emergency.

Assistant medical examiner Dr. Carol Allan fended off a variety of explicit and implied criticisms of her work in the Gray case from defense attorney Joseph Murtha, including a suggestion that she may have rushed the report to help State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby make a quick announcement of charges.

There were also repeated questions from Murtha concerning whether the prosecution, in discussing the case with Allan, had told her about an unspecified back injury. Allan said that the prosecution had not informed her of any prior injury, but that "the question had been raised" in her discussions with them. She said that if there was previous injury to Gray's neck that it would be an "important" consideration.

On re-direct by prosecutors, Allan said that if there had been an injury to Gray's spine anywhere below his neck, she would have found evidence of it during her autopsy. She also said that surgical work by Shock Trauma on the vertebrae in Gray's neck made it impossible for her to say whether he had had a previous injury in that area.

Allan's testimony was interrupted at midday to introduce Dr. Marc Soriano, an Illinois neurosurgeon and expert witness who told the court that, based on medical records including CAT and MRI scans, it appeared that Gray's injury was comparable to what might be seen in a motorcycle crash or a car accident in which a passenger is launched through a windshield.

Soriano dismissed the notion that Gray's injuries could have been self-inflicted by beating his head against the van's walls, saying they were too severe and noting that every muscle and ligament in Gray's neck had been severed along with one of two major arteries feeding blood to his brain.

Asked by Murtha whether Gray's apparent difficulty breathing could have merely been breathlessness as a result of having fled from police, Soriano curtly replied, "That's a bit of a stretch, counselor."

As his testimony drew to a close, Soriano asserted that although Gray's injury was so severe that lasting consequences including possible paraplegia were almost certain, his life might have been saved if he had been given immediate medical attention rather than spending almost another half-hour in the police van.

"Somewhere in that 24 minutes, we lost Mr. Gray," Soriano said.

After re-taking the stand, Allan faced renewed questions as to how she had established her timeline for Gray's injury, which she said happened between the second and fourth of five total stops the van made after Gray was loaded into it. According to Allan, it was Gray's own words and actions, as reported by Porter and others, that had provided the evidence. Witnesses said that Gray had ceased rocking the van and protesting after the second stop, Allan testified.

The day's testimony was closed out with some vivid images of Gray's condition when he finally arrived at Western District headquarters, provided by one of the two paramedics who treated him there.

Angelique Herbert, a 17-year veteran of the Baltimore City Fire Department, said that after being dispatched to the Western for a reported "arm injury," she found Porter and another officer cradling Gray's head in the back of the van, a trickle of dark blood leaking from the young man's nose, spit around his mouth.


"His head was to the side, his eyes were open. He was looking straight out, but he wasn't moving," Herbert said.

Herbert said she wasn't prepared to find a man in police custody who had no pulse and wasn't breathing.

"I think I yelled some obscenities, 'What the hell,' something like that," she told the court.

Herbert said she and the ambulance driver spent 20 minutes in the Western District parking lot applying various treatments before driving him the five minutes to Shock Trauma. Those treatments ran the gamut from doses of Narcan to counteract a possible overdose, epinephrine to treat heart failure, and sodium bicarbonate to counteract the effects of a lack of oxygen in his system.

Porter, 26, has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment in connection with the death of Gray, who suffered a fatal spinal cord injury after being taken into police custody in West Baltimore on April 12 and died a week later. Five other officers have pleaded not guilty to similar charges in connection with Gray's death, which sparked weeks of protests, and a night of rioting following his funeral on April 27.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun