In a cascade of rulings, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams set the ground rules for the upcoming trial of William Porter, the first of six city police officers to be tried in criminal court for contributing to the murder of Freddie Gray.
The judge said he would use the "normal procedure" to question 75 to 80 prospective jurors beginning on Monday, but will ask questions in his chambers to spare jurors from standing at the bench.
Jurors will not be sequestered, but their names will be kept secret so that media scrutiny and "harassment" can be minimized.
Gray died in April after being arrested in Sandtown-Winchester. He suffered a partially severed spine during the arrest and transport to the Western District police station. Gray's death prompted peaceful protest, then rioting on the day of his funeral.
The judge ruled mostly for the prosecution and against the defense's effort to exclude various bits of evidence. "This court is not going to try the case piecemeal," Williams said from the bench, in ruling against the defense's motion to exclude from evidence the police General Order that all arrestees must be seat-belted into the transport wagon.
But some video made by witnesses will be barred from evidence and prosecutors will not be able to tell jurors that Gray's arrest was illegal.
Video taken near the intersection of Mount and Baker streets shows some of Porter's interactions with Gray, so is admissible. Some video taken earlier, when Gray was arrested by other officers before Porter was called to help, will not be shown in Porter's trial, because it is not relevant to the charges against Porter, Williams ruled.
The judge called one of the state's motions "broad" and granted some of its elements. Prosecutors want to—this is the actual title of one of their motions—"preclude the defendant from attempting to call the prosecutors in this case as trial witnesses and from attempting to controvert irrelevant aspects of or to raise baseless accusations about the state attorney's pre-indictment actions in this case." Judge Williams denied the state's request to forbid the defense's inquiries about the state's attorney's investigation into Gray's death, "subject to materiality."
Prosecutors also filed a motion to preclude the introduction of "inadmissible evidence," which prompted Williams to joke, "I generally disallow inadmissible evidence anyway."
He also denied the state's effort to limit the number of character witnesses Porter's lawyer could call.
Citing case law, Porter's defense team argued that it should get the opportunity to strike as many as 10 potential jurors, not four as is customary, based on the potential 20-year prison term Porter faces. The judge disagreed.
Picking a jury will be the most delicate part of the case, and the defense lawyers for all the police officers have pushed for the case to be removed from Baltimore, citing publicity. Williams has ruled against the defense, saying he believes an impartial jury can be found in Baltimore City. The defense has raised the issue in many ways, and did so again today, prompting a telling exchange.