By Ian Simpson
BALTIMORE (Reuters) - A defense lawyer for a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of a young black man in police custody on Monday attacked the findings of the medical examiner who ruled the death a homicide.
Officer William Porter, 26, is accused of manslaughter in the April death of Freddie Gray from a spinal injury. His death triggered rioting in the largely black city and fueled a U.S. debate on police tactics.
Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan, who conducted Gray's autopsy, testified in Baltimore City Circuit Court that she would not have classified Gray's death a homicide had Porter called a medic when Gray asked for one.
Defense attorney Joseph Murtha asked Allan whether she was shown any evidence that showed Gray was hurt between the van's second and fourth stops or if that was her belief. Agreeing with Murtha, Allan called her finding a "theory."
"It's a theory based on witnesses' statements of Freddie Gray's behavior and medical analysis of the injury," she said.
The van made six stops after Gray, handcuffed and shackled, was put in it. Medical help was not called until Gray was found unconscious at the last one, at a police station.
Dr. Morris Marc Soriano, a neurological surgeon from Rockford, Illinois, and witness for the prosecution, said the failure to get Gray medical attention brought on brain death.
Had a medic promptly put a breathing tube down Gray's throat, "he would not have suffered the brain injury that killed him," he said.
Gray was arrested after a foot chase. He was put in the back of a transport van and was not secured by a seat belt.
Porter is charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct and reckless endangerment. Prosecutors contend he was negligent in failing to call a medic when Gray asked for one and for failing to fasten a seat belt for him.
The defense has said Porter did not believe Gray was seriously injured until he was found unconscious at the police station.
One of the jurors, a black woman, was excused for a medical emergency, and was replaced by a white man. The panel now comprises seven women and five men.
Porter is the first of six officers to face trial. He could be sentenced to more than 25 years in prison if convicted on all counts. Charges against the other officers range from misconduct to second-degree murder.
(Reporting by Ian Simpson; Editing by Dan Grebler)