What to expect from Porter jury deliberations

What happens if the Porter jury can't reach a verdict? How long will deliberations take?

In a room in downtown Baltimore, 12 men and women are deliberating the fate of the first of six police officers accused in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray this spring.

Officer William G. Porter and his attorneys hope he will be acquitted of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. Prosecutors, meanwhile, are seeking a conviction in the most-watched trial in the city in years.

Baltimore officials and residents also are waiting to see what happens — and the reaction in a city that experienced rioting, looting and arson following the death of Gray, who suffered a severe spinal injury in police custody in April.

The Gray family's lawyer said it's important to trust jurors to make a decision based on the evidence and testimony presented to them.

"We should be in favor of a fair trial," said attorney William H. Murphy Jr.. "When you have a jury who is representative of the community, they speak for us."

Melissa M. Gomez, a psychologist and jury expert, said she expects jurors will take their job seriously, and know their decision could be unpopular.

"Those jurors are well aware the community is waiting for their decision," said Gomez, who runs a consulting business in Philadelphia.

What's it like for the jury?

The unnamed 12 jurors — four black women, three black men, three white women and two white men — are deliberating alone in a room in the courthouse. They have a copy of the jury instructions, pieces of evidence and a computer to replay video evidence. Their phones were collected, and they are not allowed to use electronic devices during deliberations.

Judge Barry G. Williams told the jurors they can take as long as they need to reach a verdict, and cautioned them to review the evidence carefully.

"You should not be swayed by sympathy, prejudice or public opinion," he said.

The jurors began deliberations at 2:30 p.m. Monday and wrapped up for the day about three hours later. They planned to resume at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

The jurors are not sequestered — they can go home at night. Since the beginning of the trial, they have been instructed not to talk about the case and to avoid media coverage.

Jurors in Baltimore are paid $15 per day, according to the court website. Jurors are offered discounts for parking and lunch, though it's likely meals will be brought to the jurors during deliberations.

How long will it take?

Though there's no way to know how long it will take jurors to reach a verdict. "I would anticipate this one could take a while because there's a lot for them to discuss," said J. Amy Dillard, associate professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law.

Kurt Nachtman, a former Baltimore prosecutor who now practices criminal defense, said seemingly simple cases can lead to several days of deliberations, while complex cases can go quickly.

This jury's main challenge will be to sort through conflicting testimony over whether Porter's actions and failures to act to help Gray meet the legal standard of gross negligence — necessary to convict him of involuntary manslaughter.

One person will be designated as jury foreman, but that person's opinion does not carry extra weight.

What if the jury can't reach a verdict on all charges?

If the jury sends word to the judge saying they can't reach a verdict, he will encourage them to keep trying. If the jury still can't reach a verdict, the case could be set for a retrial.

If jurors reach a verdict on some charges but not others, the court can accept those verdicts and prosecutors may re-try the other charges, Dillard said. A hung jury is possible in complex cases such as Porter's, she said.

The judge told jurors not to send him notes to report progress. He said he does not want to hear from them until they have a unanimous verdict.

What happens to Porter's job?

Disciplinary action against Porter would take place after conclusion of the trial, said T.J. Smith, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

If convicted, what sentence would Porter face?

The most serious charge, involuntary manslaughter, carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison. Second-degree assault also carries a sentence of up to 10 years, and reckless endangerment carries a sentence of up to five years.

Misconduct in office has no penalty prescribed in Maryland law, and the sentence is up to the judge's discretion.

Porter has been free on bail since he was charged on May 1. If he is convicted, his lawyers will likely argue that he should remain free until sentencing.

What about an appeal?

Only the defendant can appeal a criminal conviction, said Dillard. Criminal appeals go to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, then to the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

Baltimore Sun reporters Doug Donovan, Justin Fenton, Kevin Rector and Ian Duncan contributed to this article.

pwood@baltsun.com

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