BALTIMORE — The defense rested Friday in the trial of the first officer accused in Freddie Gray’s death to come before a jury, offering among its final witnesses a police captain who said that William Porter went beyond his duties in helping the 25-year-old on the day he suffered a fatal neck injury.
The testimony of Baltimore police Capt. Justin Reynolds continued the theme the defense has tried to develop over three days and 12 witnesses: Porter, 26, was a caring cop who did not stray from police norms in dealing with Gray.
Closing arguments are slated for Monday, and then the case will rest with the jury. The city is bracing for the first verdict in the high-profile incident, which led to days of riots and continuing protests.
Prosecutors say that Gray fell and broke his neck while shackled in the back of a police van on April 12. They also say Porter ignored general orders to buckle detainees into police vehicles and get them medical help if they needed it, but on Friday, Reynolds joined a handful of other defense witnesses who have testified that Porter acted properly at two key stops of the van.
At the fourth stop, Porter responded after the police van’s driver, Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., put out a call for a welfare check on Gray. Porter testified this week that he helped Gray off the floor of the van, asked him if he needed a medic (but never called one) and told Goodson to take him to a hospital. Those actions, Reynolds testified, go “beyond what many officers would have done.”
At the fifth van stop, Gray again told Porter that he needed a medic, and Porter told his supervisor, Sgt. Alicia White, that Gray needed to go to a hospital. Reynolds said it was “absolutely reasonable” for Porter to expect the supervisor to get help. White has also been charged in Gray’s death.
Reynolds said that Goodson was ultimately responsible for Gray’s well-being and that the department’s general orders are “guidelines,” not strict requirements.
“There are parts of general orders you have to violate to do your job,” Reynolds said. He cited a much-ignored rule that officers be quiet and civil at all times as an example. He added: “Common sense prevails over everything else.”
In addition to Reynolds, the defense called four character witnesses, including Porter’s mother and friends. Each of the witnesses described Porter as truthful and not violent. He was remembered as “Little Bill” Porter with a love for “good order.”
“He likes to keep the peace,” Helena Porter said of her son. “He’s the peacemaker in whatever situation goes down.”
She was the final witness for the defense, which also called neurosurgeons, forensic pathologists, police experts and officers who responded to Gray’s call. The highlight of their case was more than four hours of testimony from Porter, who was calm and well-rehearsed on the stand. He told the jury that he was sorry for Gray’s death but that he saw no obvious signs of injury.
Defense attorneys argued that Gray’s death was a terrible tragedy but not a homicide, as the state contends. Defense experts testified that Gray suffered a catastrophic injury just before the end of his trip to the Western District police station — one so severe that he would have been instantly paralyzed. Experts for the prosecution testified that Gray was likely injured earlier in the trip, before Porter and Gray had their crucial interactions at the fourth and fifth stops, and the injury gradually worsened.
Jurors will have to pick between those starkly different versions of events in arriving at a verdict. Porter has pleaded not guilty to charges of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
Warren S. Alperstein, a defense attorney and former Baltimore prosecutor who is not involved in the case, said that could prove challenging for the jury.
“It will be difficult to determine whose experts are more reliable,” Alperstein said. “The state has to prove their case beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s certainly more challenging when you have credible experts for the defendant.”
Lynh Bui contributed to this report.
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