The Maryland Court of Appeals has ruled Officer William Porter will have to testify in the five trials of the five Baltimore police officers allegedly involved in the death of Freddie Gray after being in police custody.
Maryland's highest court issued its full written opinion Friday explaining why prosecutors can compel Baltimore police Officer William Porter to testify against fellow officers on trial for the arrest and death of Freddie Gray.
The judges' ruling was unanimous, affirming prosecutors' arguments that state law allows prosecutors to compel testimony from a defendant against co-defendants after granting limited immunity.
Under the deal, Porter's testimony during other officers' trials cannot be used against him during his retrial.
"We hold that the State's compelling Officer Porter to testify in the trials of his fellow officers, under the grant of use and derivative use immunity, does not violate Officer Porter's privilege against compelled self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Article 22 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights," wrote Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera in the 51-page opinion.
Porter was the first officer to stand trial in Gray's death last year. After his trial ended in a hung jury, prosecutors sought to force him to testify in the trials of five other officers, which Porter fought. His testimony is considered key to prosecutors' cases, legal analysts say.
Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams initially ruled that Porter could be compelled to testify against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. and Sgt. Alicia White, but not officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice.
But the Maryland Court of Appeals — the state's highest court — ruled that Porter can be compelled to testify in the trials of all the other officers.
"If [Porter's] testimony is not relevant or is otherwise inadmissible, Defendants may object on those bases if and when Officer Porter takes the stand," Barbera wrote, adding that the court found that "not one" of Porter's arguments against testifying "has merit."
After the high court's initial ruling earlier this year, prosecutors then moved to compel Officer Miller to testify at two of his co-defendants' trials. At Nero's trial this week, prosecutors called Miller, but not Porter.
The high court noted that prosecutors face a "heavy burden to prove that the evidence it seeks to introduce against the witness in a later prosecution was not tainted by the immunized testimony." The state's attorney's office this week appointed two new prosecutors to try Porter and Miller's cases. Those prosecutors will have to demonstrate that they were not exposed to the officers' testimony in other trials.
Gray, 25, died after being arrested in April last year. The state medical examiner's office said Gray suffered a severed spine while being transported, shackled but not in a seat belt, in the back of a police van.
The six officers involved in Gray's arrest and death face charges including manslaughter, assault, second-degree murder and misconduct in office. All have pleaded not guilty and are free on bail.
Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.