Prosecutor Janice Bledsoe began her closing argument in the case against William G. Porter. In preparation for those closing arguments in the case against the first officer to be tried in Gray’s death, Judge Barry G. Williams told jurors Monday morning they could only find Porter guilty of the most serious charge — involuntary manslaughter — if they determined that he “acted in a grossly negligent manner,” severely out of line with the behavior of “a reasonable police officer.”
Bledsoe argued “How long does it take?” she asked. “How long does it take to click a seat belt? And click a radio and ask for a medic? Two seconds? Three seconds? Maybe four.”
She continued: “Is two, three, four seconds worth a life? It’s all it would have taken.” Porter’s failure to secure Freddie Gray with a seat belt or call for medical assistance caused Gray to be injured after police placed him in the back of a van in April. He died a week later. “Freddie Gray went into the van healthy,” she said. “And Freddie Gray came out dead.”
Authorities are worried that the outcome of the trial could trigger more riots and protests like those seen the day of Gray’s April funeral.
The 25-year-old was arrested April 12 after he ran from police in his West Baltimore neighborhood. Prosecutors say he suffered a serious spine injury while being transported in the back of the van while his hands and feet were shackled but he was wearing no seat belt. Though it is unclear how exactly Gray got hurt, medical experts for both sides likened his injury to those sustained when someone dives headfirst into a shallow pool of water.
Continuing her opening argument, Bledsoe told jurors that the critical phase of that trip in the police van was the fourth stop. There, she said, Gray told Porter that he couldn’t breathe, but Porter didn’t request a medic. The defense has tried to demonstrate during the trial that Gray must not have been injured until later in the trip.
“The only defense William Porter has is to say ‘I can’t breathe’ never happened at [the fourth stop],” Bledsoe said.
She asked jurors to remember the testimony of Detective Syreeta Teel, who interviewed Porter soon after Gray’s arrest and who testified that Porter told her Gray said he couldn’t breathe during that stop.
She called Teel “the most credible witness in this trial.”
Earlier, Williams instructed jurors on how to deal with the charges beyond involuntary manslaughter.
To find Porter guilty of assault, Williams said, the jury will have to find that Porter was aware he was putting Gray “in a high degree of risk” with his behavior and again was “grossly negligent.”
To find Porter guilty of misconduct in office, Williams explained, they must find that he failed to do something required by the duties of his office, not as an honest mistake but as “a willful act, with an evil motive and in bad faith.”
Finally, to find Porter guilty of reckless endangerment, they would have to agree that “a reasonable officer … would not have engaged in that conduct.”
The jury should not judge his conduct from the perspective of a civilian, Williams said, but from that of “a reasonable police officer in a similar situation.”