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The Courts of Appeals building in Annapolis. (The Daily Record File)

Md. Court of Appeals puts Freddie Gray cases on hold

Maryland’s highest court on Thursday stayed the cases of five officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray so it can resolve a dispute over the state’s immunity statute as it applies to the sixth officer.

The Court of Appeals will hear arguments March 3 as to whether Officer William Porter can be compelled to testify at fellow officers’ trials while he is awaiting his retrial. The Court of Special Appeals had scheduled oral arguments for the case March 4 before the Court of Appeals reached down and grabbed the case, a process known as bypassing.

The next officer scheduled to stand trial was Officer Edward Nero; jury selection was scheduled to begin Monday in Baltimore City Circuit Court. The trials for Officer Garrett Miller and Lt. Brian Rice were scheduled for next month.

The state attorney general’s office asked the Court of Appeals last week to take the cases from the intermediate appellate court.

“Certiorari review of this case, prior to a decision in the Court of Special Appeals, is necessary and desirable because this case presents an issue of first impression and because pre-judgment certiorari review will advance the cause of judicial economy and assure that the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray are brought to trial in a timely manner,” lawyers for the state said in their petition.

Porter’s case ended in a mistrial in December and he is scheduled to be retried in June. But Judge Barry Williams, who is presiding over all six trials, last month ordered Porter to testify at Officer Caesar Goodson’s trial, finding that if Porter was granted use and derivative use immunity, which prevents prosecutors from using any of his testimony against him or deriving additional evidence from it, his right against self-incrimination would be preserved.

Goodson’s trial was scheduled to begin Jan. 11. Porter’s lawyers appealed Williams’ ruling, putting Goodson’s and Officer Alicia White’s trials on hold.

Prosecutors also moved to compel Porter’s testimony at the remaining officers’ trials, but Williams denied that motion, agreeing with the defense’s argument that the request was “a pretextual effort” to seek postponement. The state appealed that ruling and asked Williams to stay proceedings pending the appeal, a request he denied.

Defense attorneys for Nero, Miller and Rice objected to the state’s appeal of Williams’ denial, claiming the order was not a final judgment. The Court of Appeals also Thursday asked both sides to prepare briefs on whether the Williams’ denial was appealable in the first place.