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William Porter, one of six Baltimore police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, arrives at Baltimore City Circuit Court last month. (Mark Wilson/Pool Photo via AP)

Jurors’ struggle reveals difficulties in Freddie Gray case

Twelve Baltimore residents debated complicated issues for nearly three days before informing a judge they could not reach a decision on any of the counts faced by Officer William Porter, the first of six officers to go to trial in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.

Baltimore City Circuit Judge Barry Williams declared a mistrial Wednesday afternoon after the jury told him they were hung on all four counts Porter faced: involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Baltimore defense attorney A. Dwight Pettit said the length of the deliberations before a mistrial was declared shows there were difficult issues involved. The jury announced it was deadlocked Tuesday afternoon but Williams instructed them to keep working toward a verdict.

“I think they were really trying,” Pettit said of the jurors. “I thought they really might be trying to move toward a compromise verdict.”

Though a “guilty” or “not guilty” verdict would have been preferred by many, a hung jury is part of the system, said Ahmet Hisim, a former city prosecutor.

“I think everybody sort of wanted a resolution one way or the other,” said Hisim, of Jezic & Moyse LLC in Silver Spring. “This is a no-decision.”

The mistrial leaves Porter in limbo as well, according to Steven Levin, of Levin & Curlett LLC in Baltimore.

“It’s certainly better than a conviction but I’m sure he’s frustrated,” said Levin, a former federal prosecutor turned defense lawyer.

Gene Ryan, president of the Baltimore Fraternal Order of Police, said Porter “is no closer to a resolution” than he was when he was charged.

“Our legal system, however, allows for outcomes of this nature, and we must respect the decision of the jury, despite the fact that it is obviously frustrating to everyone involved,” he said in a statement.

Gary Proctor, right, and Joseph Murtha, lawyers for Officer William Porter, leave Baltimore City Circuit Court on Tuesday during jury deliberations. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Gary Proctor, right, and Joseph Murtha, lawyers for Officer William Porter, leave Baltimore City Circuit Court on Tuesday during jury deliberations. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Defense attorneys are likely to renew their argument to change the case’s venue in the event of a retrial, according to Levin, in part because jurors could not agree on any of the four counts.

Because there was so little evidence to support a conviction on the manslaughter an assault charges, Levin continued, the fact that at least one juror wanted to convict could indicate he or she had prejudged the case.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, during a press conference Wednesday, reminded citizens that they fought to keep Porter’s trial in Baltimore and after hearing all the evidence, 12 residents could not agree on a verdict.

Complicated issues

Prosecutors accused Porter of failing to get medical help when Gray requested it April 12 and not securing Gray with a seat belt in the back of a police transport van. They told the jury Porter’s actions amounted to gross negligence and led to Gray’s death.

The hung jury indicates there was a lack of compelling evidence on each side, according to Hisim.

Pettit said the jury was charged with deciding whether Porter’s failure to follow police general orders led to criminal liability when multiple police witnesses testified securing passengers with a seat belt was never done.

When combined with “messy medical testimony” from the assistant medical examiner who performed Gray’s autopsy, Pettit said, and contradictory testimony from defense medical experts as to when and how Gray sustained the neck injury which lead to his death, it was always going to be difficult for jurors to reach a conclusion.

“It was some tough issues,” he said.

Porter denied Gray ever told Porter he couldn’t breathe, which prosecutors alleged, and said Gray did not appear seriously injured when he interacted with him.

Looking ahead

Attorneys will meet with Williams in chambers for a scheduling conference.

That there is a discussion so soon indicates prosecutors had already decided to retry the case in the event of a mistrial, according to Hisim.

“I think it makes sense,” he said.

Baltimore solo practitioner Gary S. Bernstein said prosecutors almost have to retry the case because of the politics involved.

“You’re already committed to this case,” Bernstein said.

Unfortunately for prosecutors, unless a juror tells them what the split was for each count, they will not know how close they came to convictions or acquittals, according to Bernstein.

“If I was on that jury, the one thing we would agree on is… that we don’t want anyone to know what the split was,” Bernstein said.

Williams previously ordered that the identities of the jurors would be protected in light of the publicity surrounding the case.

For defense attorneys, a mistrial is not the worst outcome, according to Hisim.

“The client has not been convicted,” Hisim said. “It’s almost a win.”

In the event of a second trial, Porter’s lawyers also have a lot more information about the state’s case and a better ability to anticipate testimony.

“If I’m representing Porter, I’m very happy with a hung jury,” Bernstein said.

On the other hand, prosecutors have the advantage of knowing the defense’s case, according to Levin, as well as knowledge of how Porter testifies on the stand.

“Now they have the benefit of hearing his testimony and observing what kind of witness he would be,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.