The trial of police Officer Caesar Goodson begins Monday with a cloud of uncertainty around the prosecution’s star witness – fellow police Officer William Porter.
The Court of Special Appeals, Maryland’s second highest court, blocked Friday an order from Judge Barry Williams forcing Porter to testify in the upcoming trial to allow time for an appeal of the order to play out.
Porter’s lawyers argued he cannot be called as a witness in Goodson’s trial without infringing on his right to not incriminate himself.
Porter’s first trial on charges that included involuntary manslaughter ended in a hung jury last month. His re-trial is scheduled for June.
When Judge Williams ordered Porter to testify in Goodson’s trial, he warned prosecutors they couldn’t use anything Porter says against him in his retrial. But Porter’s lawyer, Gary Proctor, argued to the appellate court that because prosecutors repeatedly called Porter a liar during his trial, he could be open to perjury charges depending on his testimony in Goodson’s trial.
The Court of Special Appeals blocked Williams’ order to give prosecutors time to respond.
Assistant Attorney General Carrie Williams, responding for the prosecutors, argued that Porter’s motion to block his testimony was not properly filed and that he would be protected from perjury charges by the judge’s limited grant of immunity.
University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert said he’s seeing a breakdown of the “code of silence” among fellow officers. He said if Porter testifies, it could lead to a “shattering of the united front” defense attorneys have put forward.
“We saw some of the police in the first trial being given immunity and testifying,” Colbert said. “Now you actually have a co-defendant who I suspect will be testifying against other co-defendants.”
Meanwhile in Baltimore
At 46, Goodson, who joined Baltimore Police in 1999, is the oldest among the six officers charged in Freddie Gray’s death. He drove the van that transported Gray to several stops in West Baltimore when Gray’s injury occurred.
Goodson is the only officer to not give investigators a statement and the only officer facing murder among several other charges.
“It’s his charge. You know; it’s his responsibility; it’s his prisoner. And it’s his van that this happened in,” says defense attorney Warren Brown who adds Goodson has the “biggest hurdle” to overcome in his case.
“It’s like something happening in your house. Ultimately, you’re responsible for what happens in your house.”
According to the autopsy, Gray’s injury occurred between the second stop - where officers shackled Gray’s legs - and the fourth stop - where Porter responded to a call for a “prisoner check” from Goodson.
The call for a prisoner check, according to prosecutors, happened between the third and fourth stop.
Goodson was the only officer at the third stop. What happened there will remain unknown unless Goodson takes the stand, which Brown says is unlikely to happen.
“He’d be subject to cross-examination about how he drove; so on and so forth,” Brown says. “If he takes the stand and testify, there may be questions he really doesn’t want to answer.”
Colbert says more might be said about what was said between Porter and Goodson at the fourth stop. This assumes Porter testifies. And the Court of Special Appeals has yet to rule on that.