ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Judges on Maryland's highest court peppered lawyers with questions Thursday about whether an officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray can be forced to testify against five colleagues, a case so unusual a lower judge said it was swimming in "uncharted waters."
The case is complex in part because Officer William Porter's first trial in November ended with a hung jury. As he was awaiting a retrial, a judge ruled he had to testify against some of the officers but not others.
Porter's attorney Gary Proctor argued that the state "wants to have its cake and eat it too" by prosecuting Porter and calling him as a witness. He said if Porter is made to testify in several trials before his own retrial, it would create a "minefield."
Porter took the stand at his trial and said he didn't do anything wrong during Gray's arrest. He told a jury that it was the van driver's responsibility to make sure Gray was secured in a seat belt, not his.
"What is the harm to Officer Porter to tell his story again at multiple trials?" asked Judge Clayton Green.
"Every time he gets on the stand he is subjecting himself to a perjury charge," Proctor said.
"Only if he elects to lie," Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera shot back.
Porter and the other officers are charged in the death of Gray, a 25-year-old black man who died in Baltimore police custody. His neck was broken in the back of a police transport van while handcuffed and in leg irons, but not restrained by a seat belt.
Two separate appeals were before the Maryland Court of Appeals. One pertained to cases against three officers and the other concerned two.
Previously, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams, who said the court was in "unchartered waters" dealing with the case and the legal issues it represents, ruled that Porter must testify against Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Caesar Goodson. Porter's defense attorney appealed.
Williams also ruled that Porter cannot be compelled to take the stand in the trials for officers Edward Nero, Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice. The state appealed that decision.
The judges heard a second appeal stemming from the cases of Nero, Miller and Rice. That appeal focused on whether Williams had the authority to deny prosecutors' request to compel Porter to testify, and whether his decision could be appealed.
Michael Belsky, an attorney for several officers, argued the state had no right to file an appeal because proceedings are still ongoing.
The judges have not indicated when they will rule.