- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

The Maryland Court of Appeals will hear arguments Thursday on whether a Baltimore police officer, one of six charged in the death of Freddie Gray, can be forced to testify against the others even as he is expected to be retried after his own case ended in mistrial.

Prosecutors have sought to compel Officer William Porter to testify against fellow officers ahead of his own retrial on manslaughter charges, offering him immunity and agreeing not to use his testimony against him later. His attorneys have argued that requiring him to testify would violate his Fifth Amendment rights.

A ruling by Maryland’s highest court would settle a legal matter that has postponed the trials of the other officers since a hung jury announced in December its inability to reach a verdict in Officer Porter’s case.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams initially ruled that Officer Porter must testify against Sgt. Alicia White and Officer Caesar Goodson. All three face assault, reckless endangerment, misconduct in office and manslaughter charges. Officer Porter’s attorney appealed the order, and the Court of Special Appeals stalled the trials for the two officers until its judges could issue a ruling.

In the meantime, Judge Williams denied a motion from prosecutors to compel Officer Porter’s testimony against Lt. Brian Rice and Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller on the grounds that prosecutors never indicated their intent to call Officer Porter to the stand in those trials. Prosecutors appealed to the Court of Special Appeals.

The cases stem from the death of Gray, who suffered a broken neck while handcuffed in the back of a police van in April and died a week later. His death sparked protests in Baltimore, but large-scale rioting broke out on the day of his funeral.

The following week, State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced charges would be brought against the six officers who were involved in Gray’s arrest and transport. Ms. Mosby’s decision to charge the officers and the speed at which she did it propelled her into the national spotlight but also gave room for critics to argue she may have artificially raised expectations for a conviction.

The hung jury in Officer Porter’s case proved a bad starting point that only appeared to make the state’s chances at convictions against the officers murkier.

In court filings made this week ahead of Thursday’s hearing, Attorney General Brian Frosh wrote that the state had done nothing wrong or unusual in seeking to compel Officer Porter to testify.

Porter is no different than any of the countless witnesses over the centuries to whom the government granted immunity in exchange for their compelled testimony,” Mr. Frosh wrote. “The State has chosen to use one of the many tools in its toolbox to prosecute the officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray.”

Officer Porter’s attorneys argued that the state was “mistaken” in its assertion that the immunity agreement will put him on the same footing as if he had never testified in the first place.

“Witnesses with immunity go home,” Officer Porter’s attorneys said in documents filed Wednesday. “But here, Porter faces for the charges already pending against him, and potential perjury charges lurk around every corner.”

There is no deadline for Maryland Court of Appeals judges to make their ruling.

Officer Porter’s retrial is scheduled in June.

⦁ This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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