Maryland’s second-highest court has intervened and postponed the trial of Officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr., just as the case was set to get underway Monday with jury selection.
The last-minute order from the Court of Special Appeals followed a series of legal filings last week in which Officer William Porter sought to block a Circuit Court judge’s order forcing him to testify at Goodson’s trial in the death of Freddie Gray. Porter is also charged in Gray’s death, and his trial in December ended in a mistrial with jurors deadlocked. His next trial is not slated to begin until June.
Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams — who is presiding over the trials of all six officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death — briefly took the bench Monday morning to note the appeals court stay and place Goodson’s trial in recess.
Williams said the prosecution had also asked for a continuance, but that the request was “moot” given the appeals court stay. He also said Goodson had objected to a continuance.
In the Court of Special Appeals order signed Monday morning, Chief Judge Peter B. Krauser wrote that it was “presumably in the interests of all parties” that Porter’s appeal be resolved before the trial got underway.
On Friday the appellate court temporarily blocked Porter from having to testify, saying it needed to hear from the state and consider the issue. The state responded Friday, but Goodson’s trial was still on track to begin with jury selection Monday until the new appeals order was handed down.
New dates for a Goodson trial are dependent upon the resolution of Porter’s appeal. It is unclear how the postponement of Goodson’s trial may impact the scheduling in the trials of the other officers.
The prosecution has said that Porter is a “material witness” against Goodson and Sgt. Alicia White, another of the officers charged in Gray’s death.
Gray, 25, suffered a broken neck and a severe spinal cord injury while in the back of a police transport van in April. His death a week later sparked protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced charges against the six officers on May 1.
The move to compel a defendant to testify under immunity at a co-defendant’s trial is unprecedented in Maryland. Nevertheless, prosecutors argued — and Williams agreed — that the law clearly allows for such a maneuver.
Williams granted Porter limited immunity that he said protects Porter from having his testimony used against him when he is retried in June.
Porter’s attorneys contend that requiring him to testify would be a violation of his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“The Fifth Amendment creates a privilege against compelled disclosures that could implicate a witness in criminal activity and thus subject him or her to criminal prosecution,” Porter’s attorneys wrote.
The Maryland statute on immunity is “designed for people without skin in the game: witnesses. Not Officer Porter,” they wrote.
Carrie Williams, arguing for the state, wrote that “the state is precluded from using Porter’s immunized testimony to prove any charge of perjury that allegedly occurred prior to Porter’s testimony in Goodson’s trial.”
In granting the motion to compel Porter to testify, Judge Williams warned prosecutors that they were headed down a tricky path if they intend to retry Porter. “The second he testifies, it may change the game,” he told them last week.