Maryland’s high court on Tuesday ordered a Baltimore police officer to testify against five colleagues also charged in the death last year of Freddie Gray, a black man whose death triggered protests and rioting.
In a victory for prosecutors, the Court of Appeals ordered Officer William Porter to testify in the other cases even though he faces a retrial in Gray’s death. The move to force testimony in a co-defendant’s trial is seen as unprecedented in Maryland.
The order signed by Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera sent the cases back to Baltimore City Circuit Court for trial. She said an explanation would come in an opinion to be filed later.
Gray, 25, died last April from a neck injury suffered in police custody. His death sparked unrest in the majority black city and spurred a U.S. debate on police treatment of minorities.
Prosecutors had tried Porter first, hoping to secure a conviction before using him as a witness in other cases, but his manslaughter trial ended in a hung jury in December.
In January Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams ordered Porter to testify against Caesar Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White, even though Porter faces a retrial in June.
Williams also had denied a motion by prosecutors to force Porter to testify against the other three officers — Lt. Brian Rice and Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero. The high court’s decision overturned Williams’ order in those cases.
Prosecutors and lawyers for Porter appealed the orders. The defense team contended that testifying against the other officers would compromise Porter’s constitutional right against self-incrimination.
State attorneys argued before the Court of Appeals this month that Porter would have limited immunity and prosecutors would be barred from using his words against him.
The trials had been stayed pending the ruling. Rice’s trial was set to start on Wednesday but was rescheduled hours after the high court’s order to April 13. A court spokeswoman said the other trials would be rescheduled.
A spokeswoman for one of Porter’s attorneys, Joseph Murtha, declined to comment on the high court’s decision, citing a gag order.
Warren Alperstein, a Baltimore defense lawyer who is closely following the case, said the decision was a clear win for prosecutors but that the issue may not be resolved.
“It’s possible this case could go all the way to the Supreme Court,” Alperstein said.