Judge ruled Porter must testify in Goodson trial

Posted at 9:44 AM, Jan 07, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-07 09:44:40-05

A judge has ruled that the Baltimore City Police officer whose criminal trial ended in a hung jury will have to testify against a fellow officer.

It's a ruling that legal observers say is unprecedented in Maryland.  Officer William Porter is still a defendant, because the hung jury meant his previous trial ended in a mistrial.  But he is the key witness in the upcoming trial of Officer Caesar Goodson.

Porter and Goodson are two of the six officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray.

“It would've gutted state's case if Porter was allowed to assert his 5th Amendment right and did not have to testify.  It would have gutted it. They have to have Porter,” said Sheryl Wood, a local attorney and former federal prosecutor.

That's because prosecutors say it is Porter who told Officer Goodson -- the driver of the van in which Freddie Gray sustained his fatal injury -- that Gray needed a medic.

“The goal is for the public to learn the truth about what happened to Freddie Gray. And that's really what we're talking about here,” said Doug Colbert, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law who has been following the trial.

Prosecutors granted Officer Porter what's known as "use immunity."  Whatever he says on the stand in the trial of Officer Goodson, cannot be used against Porter at his re-trial.

“You want to protect defendant's rights to a fair trial but we don't want any of the defendants to obstruct justice,” Colbert said.

But as early as Thursday, Porter's attorneys plan to appeal the decision in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.

They say porter's 5th Amendement right not to incriminate himself trumps the state's need for his testimony.

“It is almost sacrilegious to make a defendant testify by giving him or her immunity.  And that's why it has never occurred,” said Warren Brown, another local attorney who has been following the trial.

Judge Barry Williams warned the prosecution that his ruling could also mean they won't be able to re-try Officer Porter.  But  Officer Goodson faces the most serious charge of any of the officers -- 2nd degree depraved heart murder.

“(Porter) doesn’t want to voluntarily testify against another officer. He's a young man; he's looking forward to some sort of career in law-enforcement. So he didn't want to testify against an officer. Now he's being made to," Wood said.

Officer Goodson's trial is still scheduled to start on Monday.  It's not clear yet whether any the filing with the Court of Special Appeals will have an impact on that date.

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