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From top row, left, Caesar R. Goodson Jr., Garrett E. Miller and Edward M. Nero, and bottom row from left, William G. Porter, Brian W. Rice and Alicia D. White, the six police officers charged with felonies ranging from assault to murder in the death of Freddie Gray. (Baltimore Police Department via AP)

Judge denies motion to compel Porter’s testimony at other officers’ trials

Trials for three of the officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray will go on as scheduled beginning as soon as late February after a judge declined to compel at those trials Officer William Porter’s testimony, an issue currently on appeal.

In a letter to the court dated Jan. 13, prosecutors indicated Porter may be called to present relevant testimony at trials for Officer Garrett Miller, Officer Edward Nero and Lt. Brian Rice. Their trials are scheduled to occur before a decision is anticipated from the appellate court on whether Porter can be compelled to testify at the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson. Prosecutors also planned to call Porter to testify at Sgt. Alicia White’s trial.

Defense attorneys for Miller, Nero and Rice opposed the state’s motions filed last week to compel Porter’s testimony at their clients’ trials.

Joseph Murtha, one of Porter’s lawyers, argued in Baltimore City Circuit Court on Wednesday that the timing of the request indicated prosecutors were merely seeking to tie up the remaining trials in the appellate issue and called the move “disingenuous.”

“There is no doubt in my mind… that it is a pretexual effort by the state to seek postponement,” Murtha said.

Judge Barry Williams agreed, saying he believes the state’s apparently sudden decision to call Porter as a witness in all five other trials is mostly for the purpose of “getting around” his order that the cases proceed as scheduled.

Williams previously declined to postpone the remaining trials to allow prosecutors to retry Porter immediately.

Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said that, after Porter’s trial concluded, prosecutors reevaluated their case and determined Porter could have relevant testimony to show Gray was not secured with a seat belt when Miller, Nero and Rice were present and to provide context regarding when Gray sustained his neck injury.

Prosecutors had already indicated Porter’s testimony would be necessary at the trials for Goodson and White’s trials, prompting Williams to ask Wednesday why Porter was never mentioned as a witness in the other cases until now.

“We acknowledge we’re changing our mind,” Schatzow said.

Citing Maryland’s immunity statute, Schatzow said the State’s Attorney’s Office was representing to the court in good faith that having Porter testify is in the public interest.

Williams questioned whether Porter’s testimony, as represented by Schatzow, would even be admissible at trial, and the judge said he did not believe the court is merely a rubber stamp to grant immunity once the state says the testimony is necessary.

Williams earlier this month granted a motion to compel and granted Porter immunity for his testimony against Goodson. Porter appealed the court’s decision, and arguments are scheduled in the Court of Special Appeals for March 4.

The appellate court stayed proceedings in Goodson’s case Jan. 11, the morning jury selection was scheduled to begin. Williams said Wednesday that White’s trial is also on hold because the same issue is present.

White’s trial was scheduled to start next week. Nero’s trial is scheduled to start Feb. 22.

Porter’s case ended in a mistrial last month and his retrial is scheduled for June, months after the other cases will conclude.