Reminded by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams that the clock was ticking loudly on his closing argument to the Porter trial jury, Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow finished with a strong hand early Monday afternoon, reminding the jury about an important sequence of events on April 12, the day Freddie Gray sustained the traumatic spinal cord injury that a medical examiner concluded caused his death.
By now, the jury must be intimately familiar with each stop the police van made between the site of Gray’s Sunday morning arrest in West Baltimore and its final destination, the Western District police station. By now, the jury must understand the basic charges against Officer William G. Porter — that his failure to call for a medic and his failure to seat-belt the handcuffed Gray on a bench in the passenger compartment of the van contributed to Gray’s injury and, a week later, his death.
Last week, Porter’s defense effectively raised doubts about when Gray’s injury had occurred, which in turn raised doubts about what the young police officer knew about Gray’s condition and when he knew it.
The defense paid one of the nation’s best-known forensic pathologists, Dr. Vincent Di Maio, to give his expert opinion on when Gray’s catastrophic injury occurred. It was such a “violent, high-energy” injury, Di Maio told the jury, that it must have occurred between the fifth and final stops of the van. Had it occurred any earlier, Gray would not have been able to ask for help, nor kneel, nor move his body in any way.
“Impossible,” Di Maio said.
This is an important point because a major piece of the state’s narrative, which follows the journey of the van through West Baltimore, is that Porter heard Gray ask for help during an earlier stop, and the officer should have taken action.
Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant state medical examiner who performed the autopsy on Gray, said he was injured between the second and fourth stops. She would not have ruled the death a homicide, she said, had Porter or the van's driver, Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., sought medical care for Gray at the fourth stop.
Now, with the clock ticking on his closing argument, Schatzow brought up Donta Allen. We’ve heard a lot about this fellow since last spring but not seen much of him. He’s the other arrestee who shared the final leg of the ride to the Western District with Gray. Allen had been picked up at the van’s fifth stop and placed in the left side of the van, separated from Gray by a partition.
When the van reached the Western District, Schatzow pointed out, Allen walked out of the van. Freddie Gray was already gravely injured.
“One man gets a broken neck, and the other doesn’t get a scratch,” Schatzow said. If, as DiMaio claimed, the traumatic injury had occurred to Gray between the fifth and final stops, how did Allen escape harm?
It was a smart play by Schatzow, invoking Allen and making a comparison that might not have occurred to the jury.
So — who knows? — one of the key figures in the Porter case might be a man who wasn’t there. Allen had once been on a list of possible defense witnesses, but he was not called to testify.
Schatzow was not alone in invoking the name of a person the jury never saw.
As the equally skilled defense attorney Joe Murtha reviewed the witnesses who had testified over the last two weeks, pointing to holes in the state’s case, he mentioned Goodson almost as much as he mentioned his client.
Goodson, driver of the van, is one of the six Baltimore police officers charged in this case. His name has been mentioned frequently during defense testimony in the Porter trial as the man who, by department protocol, should have been responsible for the safe transportation of detainees in the back of his van.
Monday, Murtha emphasized Goodson so much the jurors might have started to wonder, if they hadn’t already, why the van driver was not on trial before them.
Goodson faces the most serious charge connected to Gray's death: second-degree depraved-heart murder. He's scheduled for court next month. But in some respects, it feels as if he's already been tried.