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Officer Porter's defense attorneys are no strangers to the spotlight

For the past two weeks, the lawyers representing Officer William Porter have escorted him into the courthouse, huddled with him at the bench and passionately argued to the jury that Porter was a good cop.

Joe Murtha and Gary Proctor don't usually practice together, but they teamed up to defend Porter in a case that has focused national attention on police issues in Baltimore after Freddie Gray's death.

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Those who have worked with Murtha, who grew up in Reisterstown, and Proctor, a native of Northern Ireland, say they are well-prepared attorneys who have tackled many complex cases.

Murtha thrives on difficult cases, said David B. Irwin, his former law partner.

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"He was looking forward to the challenge," Irwin said. "He had strong feelings about what's happening with Officer Porter."

Porter, 26, is the first of six officers to stand trial in Gray's death. He has pleaded not guilty to manslaughter and other charges. Prosecutors say he did not call for help when Gray needed medical attention. Closing arguments in the case are scheduled for Monday.

Both Murtha and Proctor are former winners of an award named for John Adams, the early American president who successfully represented British soldiers accused in the Boston Massacre of 1770. The award honors lawyers' service to indigent clients.

James Wyda, the head federal public defender in Maryland, said it's at times when people are angry that society most needs lawyers like Murtha and Proctor, who have long been willing to step up and defend deeply unpopular clients.

But that kind of work can take a toll on lawyers, he said.

"It is a hard thing to do over a long period of time," Wyda said. "I think it takes special lawyers and special people."

The prosecuting and defense attorneys are bound by a gag order prohibiting them from discussing the case outside the courtroom.

Murtha, 56, began his legal career as a prosecutor in Howard County. Later, he defended Linda Tripp, who was accused of secretly recording White House intern Monica Lewinsky. Prosecutors ended up dropping charges against Tripp.

In recent years, he's defended Morgan Arnold, a suburban teenager accused of plotting her father's murder, and Terrence Cody, the former Ravens player accused of starving his dog to death.

Irwin calls him "relentless."

"He's incredibly well prepared," Irwin said. "He's the hardest worker I've ever worked with. And he's very good with people."

A graduate of Towson University, Murtha was born in New Jersey and raised in Reisterstown. He attended Mount St. Joseph High School.

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After graduating from the University of Baltimore law school in 1989, he joined the Howard County State's Attorney's office, where he worked for five years. He handled cases including the 1992 carjacking murder of Pam Basu, who was dragged to her death as she tried to free her daughter from a carseat.

"He was a very thorough and tenacious prosecutor, but fair as well," said Deputy Howard County State's Attorney Mary Murphy.

He recently defended Cody in a Baltimore County animal cruelty and drug case. Cody, accused of starving his dog Taz to death, was acquitted of the most serious aggravated cruelty charges but convicted of multiple misdemeanors.

Baltimore County prosecutor Adam Lippe, who prosecuted the Cody case, said Murtha is a well-prepared, tactical lawyer with a "very understated style."

"You can't slack off as a prosecutor" when trying a case against Murtha, said Lippe, who's known him about 15 years.

People who have worked with Proctor say he is always thorough in preparing for cases and has a personality that lets him get along with his clients and connect with jurors.

Former federal prosecutor Peter Nothstein faced Proctor when the defense attorney was representing a Jamaican woman accused in a murderous drug-smuggling conspiracy. The woman seemed to be a difficult client, Nothstein said, but Proctor was unruffled.

"He's got this very easy demeanor but he's tough when he needs to be," Nothstein said.

Proctor, 43, grew up in Northern Ireland and got his law degree at Queen's University in 1995. He moved to Bermuda a few years later, then to Louisiana before coming to Maryland in 2005.

In Baltimore's federal courts, he has represented all manner of criminals and his fair share of high-profile defendants.

They include Black Guerilla Family leader Tavon White, notorious for his reign at the Baltimore City Detention Center. His caseload has made Proctor intimately familiar with the world William Porter was tasked with policing.

Proctor can be sarcastic in the courtroom. At one point during Porter's trial, Judge Barry Williams said he would hold Proctor in contempt if he kept asking "snarky" questions. Proctor had asked Detective Syreeta Teel if she was familiar with the Merriam-Webster dictionary definition of the word "need."

Michael D. Montemarano, also a local defense lawyer, said Proctor, with his dry wit, and Murtha, who is more reserved, make a good courtroom team.

"Porter is as lucky as he can get in having both him and Murtha," he said. "I think they combine well in terms of their respective attributes."

Having two such skilled attorneys take on the first of six trials could be a benefit to the other officers and their legal teams, Montemarano said.

"Gary and Joe together are so very careful that there are going to be so few stones unturned when the next trials begin," he said.

Baltimore Sun reporters Justin Fenton and Kevin Rector contributed to this article.

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