The Freddie Gray case moved to Annapolis Thursday as the Court of Appeals heard arguments on whether or not police Officer William Porter could be forced to testify against his five fellow officers.
All six are accused in Gray’s death last year from a broken neck suffered while in the back of a police wagon; they face charges ranging from reckless endangerment to second degree depraved heart murder.
The officers sat together along the east side of the fourth floor courtroom across from City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who charged them nearly a year ago, listening to two hours of arguments.
Porter's trial ended in a hung jury in December. Since then prosecutors have sought to compel him to testify against the other five. Circuit Judge Barry Williams ordered Porter to testify against Officer Caesar Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White, but denied the prosecution’s request to order him to testify against the other three; Lt. Brian Rice and Officers Edward Nero and Garrett Miller;.
Porter's lawyers appealed the order to testify against Goodson and White, arguing it violated the officer's right against self-incrimination. Prosecutors appealed the ban on Porter’s testimony in the other cases.
Meanwhile, the trials have been put on hold.
The red-robed judges of the state’s highest court spent the first hour questioning whether Williams had the authority to rule on compelling Porter to testify in the trials of Rice, Nero and Miller
Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said Williams could not do that.
"He has no right to determine under the statute whether the prosecutors determination that the testimony will be in the public interest is a ruse or subterfuge," he argued.
But Thomas Donnelly, who represents Rice, said Williams caught prosecutors trying to pull a fast one.
"The court found specifically that the state’s motion was more to get around his postponement denial than anything else; that was from the hearing on January 20th," Donelly said.
The judges spent the second hour hearing Porter's appeal of Williams order to testify against Goodson and Alicia White.
Attorney Gary Proctor said the state wants to "have its cake and eat it too."
"They could have made Officer Porter a witness in the first instance. They asked for his trial to go first; his trial went first," he added.
Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams argued that Porter is better positioned to defend himself at his retrial, scheduled for June, than he was in December.
"Mr. Porter has a snapshot of what the state’s evidence was against him as of December 16, 2015," she said.
It’s unclear when the court might rule.