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Officers in Freddie Gray case appear in court as new trial dates set

Baltimore attorney J. Wyndal Gordon, who observed Tuesday's hearing in the Freddie Gray case, offers his thoughts on the change of dates for the trials. Gordon has represented families in the past in assault cases against the city police department. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun)

The six Baltimore police officers charged in Freddie Gray's arrest and death will be tried separately over the course of the next six months, with the first trial — against Officer William G. Porter — now slated for Nov. 30.

The new timeline, which pushes the trials back from a previously scheduled start date of Oct. 13, was established during a hearing Tuesday in Circuit Court at which five of the six officers appeared before Judge Barry Williams for the first time. They sat together, occasionally talking with each other as well as their attorneys.

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Porter waived his right to attend the hearing.

Defense attorneys had previously asked that Porter's case be postponed due to new evidence shared in recent weeks by prosecutors. That would also delay the five other trials, as prosecutors have requested that Porter's case be heard first.

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Prosecutors have said Porter is a "necessary and material witness" in their cases against Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. and Sgt. Alicia D. White, and therefore must be tried before them. The Baltimore Sun reported Sunday that Porter told police investigators he warned Goodson that Gray required medical attention, though he also said he wasn't sure if Gray was faking injuries to avoid jail.

Porter also told investigators he had informed White that Gray needed medical attention. White told investigators she was not told he needed care.

If officers who made incriminating statements about their peers are not tried before them, they could refuse to take the stand in those trials to avoid self-incrimination in their own pending trials.

The officers' statements about each other had been raised as an issue during previous hearings, and were cited by Williams as a reason for his decision to split the officers' trials, rather than try them in groups.

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On Tuesday, Williams granted the defense request to postpone Porter's trial, as well as the prosecution's request for new dates in the other five cases, which came over the objections of the officers' attorneys.

The trials of the five other officers will occur between January and March. Following Porter's trial, Goodson's trial is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 6; White's on Jan. 25; Officer Garrett E. Miller's on Feb. 9; Officer Edward M. Nero's on Feb. 22; and Lt. Brian W. Rice's on March 9.

The postponements were due to several issues, including new evidence submitted in recent weeks and the prosecution's desire to try the officers in a specific order. The state said this month that it intended to use DNA evidence, causing defense attorneys to submit requests for additional information about collection and storage. The defense also asked how the DNA evidence would be used in their clients' cases.

Also on Tuesday, attorneys for all six officers filed motions asking Williams to reconsider their request to move the trials out of Baltimore, arguing that The Sun's article Sunday tainted the jury pool. Williams this month denied a defense request to move the trials out of the city.

"Whether the statements published by the Baltimore Sun are true or false, the information has been published to the potential jury pool and the paper has represented the information to be accurate," the motion reads. "Whether this Honorable Court rules that the statements are inadmissible in none, one, or all six trials, the prejudicial information has already been published to the potential jurors."

The motion does not specify any information in the article that the defense claims is incorrect, but questions why a Sun reporter was allowed to be embedded in the police investigation.

The motion also cited a Sept. 10 Sun column by Dan Rodricks in which he imagined going through the jury selection process.

Williams, in denying the first change-of-venue motions, said then he could not predict whether news coverage has made it impossible for Baltimore jurors to be impartial. He said that could be determined only through the jury selection process.

Gray, 25, sustained a severe spinal cord injury while riding unsecured in the back of a police transport van following his arrest April 12. His death a week later sparked protests, and his funeral was followed by a rioting, looting and arson.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby subsequently charged the officers with a range of crimes. Goodson, the van driver, is charged with second-degree murder. White, Rice and Porter are charged with manslaughter. Nero and Miller face lesser charges, including second-degree assault. All six have been charged with misconduct in office. All have pleaded not guilty and are free on bail.

The five officers' appearance in court Tuesday added a new dimension to the hearing, the third in which the case has been discussed in open court.

Rice, Miller and Nero wore dark suits; Goodson sported a black jacket and black-rimmed glasses while White wore a gray dress with red-rimmed glasses. Rice held a yellow notepad.

One of Porter's attorneys, Gary Proctor, said his client had no conflict but opted against attending the hearing. Mosby, who attended the two previous hearings, did not appear at Tuesday's.

Tuesday's hearing marked the first time the Gray case was part of a routine daily Circuit Court docket, with other cases being called before and after it. Two unrelated cases were ready for trial but had to be postponed due to a lack of available judges — a common problem in the city court system.

Defendants waiting for their own hearings had to wait in a line to obtain tickets that the sheriff's office handed out to limit the number of spectators at the Gray hearing.

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