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Monday, June 24, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Freddie Gray Murder Trial Postponed in Md.

BALTIMORE (CN) - Heading off jury selection for a Baltimore police officer accused of murdering Freddie Gray, a Maryland appeals court put a temporarily stay in place.

Caesar Goodson, one of six officers facing charges in connection to Gray's April 2015 death, had been set to face jury selection that morning.

As the driver of the van in which 25-year-old Gray sustained a fatal spinal cord injury, Goodson faces the most serious charge of second-degree depraved-heart murder.

The 46-year-old's trial postponement comes as attorneys for the prosecution's star witness, fellow Baltimore Police Officer William Porter, fight an order compelling him to testify.

Porter, 26, had been the first to face a jury in connection Gray's death, but his manslaughter trial ended last month with a hung jury .

Though Judge Barry Williams ruled that Porter had to testify Wednesday, the Maryland's Court of Special Appeals entered a stay on the testimony-compulsion order Friday.

Granting a request from prosecutors, the appeals court decided Monday that Goodson's trial cannot proceed until Porter's appeal is resolved.

Any decision cannot come before a hearing, which would follow a period for the parties to file legal briefs, court officials said Monday.

Though there is no timetable for a hearing, the Maryland Constitution requires a decision within three months, the officials added.

Trials for each of the officers had been set to run one after the other in circuit court over the next several months, however, meaning that Monday's postponement will likely throw off the entire schedule.

Prosecutors told the appeals court that Porter "is the only witness able to testify to critical aspects of defendant Goodson's alleged role in Mr. Gray's death."

"Allowing Goodson's trial without Porter's testimony would be "a grave injustice that would strip the state of a legislatively and constitutionally authorized tool ... for compelling the truth from an alleged witness to murder," they added.

Prosecutors had offered Porter limited immunity on the stand, which would have prevented his testimony from being used against him in his June trial.

If all goes as the city plans in Goodson's trial, Porter is also slated to testify against Sgt. Alicia White.

In its response to the prosecution's motion to postpone, Chief Judge Peter Krauser of the Maryland Court of Special Appeals said "it is presumably in the interests of all parties" that Porter's appeal be resolved before moving forward with Goodson's trial.

Krauser noted the imminence of Goodson's trial, and that "the state has not yet had an opportunity to respond to this 38-page motion that was filed [by Porter's attorneys] just 24 hours ago."

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland School of Law professor who has been following the trial, called it unprecedented in the state to compel testimony from a man facing pending charges under immunity at a co-defendant's trial.

Attorney General Brian Frosh and Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams urged the appeals court Friday to deny Porter's motion.

"Not only is Porter's request contrary to ordinary appellate procedure, but the lower court is better equipped to decide whether the order compelling Porter to testify should be stayed pending the appeal because it is familiar with the facts of this case and the attendant issues surrounding the trial," Frosh wrote.

Frosh and Williams also argued Porter "does not even attempt to meet his burden for receiving an injunction," and that keeping him from testifying harms prosecutors' abilities to prosecute Goodson.

"The state has one opportunity to try Goodson," the respone continues. "If the state is enjoined from calling Porter as a witness at the time of Goodson's trial, there is no remedy."

Sure that the Court of Special Appeals will also order Porter to testify, prosecutors noted that Porter's "rights have been amply protected by this Court's January 6 order."

Williams convened the court on Monday morning to speak about the appeals court's stay and place Goodson's trial in recess.

He noted the prosecution's request for a continuance, but said that the request was "moot" given the appellate stay. He also said Goodson's attorney had objected to a continuance, asking for the trial to go forward this week.

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