BALTIMORE — The officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray received new trial dates from a Baltimore judge Tuesday afternoon, with the first trial scheduled for November and the rest set through early next year.
Five of the six officers attended Tuesday’s scheduling hearing, which marked the first time any of the officers charged in the case appeared in court. The hearing came less than a month after Judge Barry G. Williams ruled that the six officers will face separate trials in Baltimore.
The officer who was absent, William G. Porter, will be the first to go to trial. Porter’s trial is scheduled to start Nov. 30. Two other trials are set for January and two in February, with the final trial set to begin March 9.
Although scheduling hearings are typically routine matters, Tuesday’s hearing in the high-profile case had some significant implications.
The logistics of getting six fair and speedy trials on the calendar had to be balanced against giving attorneys time to slog through thousands of pieces of discovery material.
The trial schedule also is important for city police, who have been preparing for the threat of civil unrest, like that which followed Gray’s funeral, if the officers are acquitted.
And the sequencing of the trials also comes into play. The state’s attorney’s office had requested that Porter be tried first because resolving his case would enable prosecutors to call him as a witness against his colleagues in subsequent trials.
“Poor Officer Porter,” said Staci Pipkin, a defense attorney and former prosecutor in Baltimore who is not connected to the Gray case. “He gets to be prosecuted and then asked to be a witness.”
The charges against the six Baltimore officers, who have all pleaded not guilty, stem from the death of Gray, 25, a week after he suffered a severe spinal injury April 12 while unrestrained in the back of a police van, prosecutors said. In the aftermath of Gray’s death, riots and looting in the city prompted the mayor to implement a citywide curfew and the governor to call in the National Guard.
Baltimore officials recently approved a $6.4 million settlement with Gray’s family. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake stressed at the time that the settlement would not affect the criminal cases but would avoid a drawn-out civil case against the city or police.
Porter’s testimony as a witness could be crucial.
On the night of Gray’s arrest, Porter was with Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., who faces the most serious charge in the case — second-degree depraved-heart murder — but did not give a statement to investigators. Prosecutors allege that Goodson, who drove the van carrying Gray, knew Gray had requested medical attention but did not render appropriate aid. Porter had helped Goodson check on Gray’s condition in the back of the wagon, according to prosecutors.
As the only officer who didn’t give a statement about the incident, “the only other witnesses that can implicate [Goodson] are the other co-defendants,” said Marshall Henslee, a Baltimore defense attorney who isn’t connected to the Gray case.
But for Porter to be a witness against any of the other officers, prosecutors would have to grant him immunity in exchange for his testimony or resolve his case first before compelling him to testify, Pipkin and Henslee said. Otherwise, Porter could invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent for fear that anything he said on the witness stand could be used against him in his own trial.
Along with Porter and Goodson, prosecutors filed charges against Officer Edward M. Nero, Officer Garrett E. Miller, Sgt. Alicia D. White and Lt. Brian W. Rice. Nero and Miller, who were the first to encounter and arrest Gray, face second-degree assault and other related charges. Porter, Rice and White have been charged with involuntary manslaughter and other related charges.
Tuesday’s hearing drew significantly less attention from the news media and demonstrators than two earlier court proceedings this month.
The five officers who appeared at Tuesday’s brief afternoon hearing filed in quickly and quietly. They sat and chatted with their attorneys, promptly leaving upon learning of their new trial dates.
Also Tuesday, White’s attorney said he had filed another request for a change of venue.
Defense attorneys had already asked to have the trials moved out of Baltimore, saying the jury pool was tainted from the media coverage. But the judge ruled that it would be inappropriate to change the site for the trials without first attempting to screen and select a jury in Baltimore.
After Porter’s trial in November, the others will follow in this order: Goodson, Jan. 6; White, Jan. 25; Miller, Feb. 9; Nero, Feb. 22; and Rice, March 9.
The dates Williams set Tuesday could be postponed if attorneys from either side requests continuances for various reasons.
“There may be motions forthcoming from these officers, and those motions may delay things even further,” Henslee said.
And the process could be even more protracted if any of the defendants is convicted and appeals — a legal move that may be used to allow officers to continue to invoke their Fifth Amendment right.
“These are all police officers and co-workers, and there is a sense they are trying to stick together,” Henslee said. “I’m sure none of these officers want to testify against the others.”