A Maryland court decided on Friday to stay the orders of a judge who had compelled a Baltimore police officer to testify for the prosecution during the murder trial against one of his colleagues.
The decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals is the latest turn in the increasingly complex litigation surrounding the case of Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died while under the custody of the Baltimore Police Department in April.
Gray's death triggered widespread protests and unrest, some of which became violent. The unrest subsided when State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, the city's top prosecutor, filed criminal charges against six police officers involved in Gray's death. All the officers have pleaded not guilty.
Thus far, only one of the officers — William Porter — has had a trial. Porter's case, however, ended in a mistrial after the jury was unable to reach a verdict. Mosby has indicated that she will seek to take Porter to court again after the trials of the other five officers.
But after a pretrial hearing on Wednesday in the case of another officer, Porter could have found himself back in court before his retrial — until the Court of Appeals intervened.
The prosecution had filed a motion asking the court to force Porter to testify against Officer Caesar Goodson, the next officer scheduled to be tried and the only defendant in the Gray case that faces murder charges. The defense had argued that Porter — who testified in his own defense during his trial — had a 5th Amendment right not to make statements that could be used against him.
To the surprise of some legal observers, Judge Barry Williams, who is overseeing the cases against the six offices, sided with the prosecution.
The judge said he would compel Porter to testify against Goodson, granting him a special kind of immunity that would allow him to be retried but prohibit the prosecution from using his statements in his colleague's trial against him. The judge, who has acquired a reputation for his often bitting wit, admitted that he was entering "uncharted territory" with the ruling, the Baltimore Sun reported.
"I am really shocked by this ruling, quite frankly," an attorney with more than 20 years of experience in the Baltimore courts — but has no connection to the charges against the six officers — told BuzzFeed News. "Porter's Fifth Amendment is very much intact."
"At his second trial, he can choose to testify or not testify," the attorney, who requested anonymity to candidly discuss the opinions of a sitting judge. "He cannot be compelled to give testimony under oath about potential criminal activity. It doesn't matter how many statements or times he may have testified in the past, they were voluntary and not compelled."
Defense attorneys for Porter said in court that he would seek an injunction from the state Court of Appeals to prevent Williams' decision from taking effect. On Friday, the court granted Porter a stay.
The stay will not prevent Goodson's trial from starting on Monday. The Court of Appeals could eventually allow Williams to compel Porter to testify.
If convicted of the top charge, Goodson could serve as many as 30 years in prison.
made his decision at the close of a pretrial motions hearing in the case of Officer Caesar Goodson, who stands accused of murdering Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old resident of West Baltimore who died last April of a catastrophic spine injury contracted while in a police van.
Goodson, who was driving the van at the time of Gray's injury, is one of six Baltimore Police Officers facing criminal charges in connection to the incident. William Porter, another officer in the case,
Nicolás Medina Mora is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Nicolás Medina Mora at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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