Jurors said they were deadlocked Tuesday as they weighed manslaughter and other charges against a police officer in the death of Freddie Gray. The judge told them to keep deliberating and they went home for the night without reaching a verdict.
The jury reported its difficulty in a note to Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams after about nine hours of discussions over two days. It wasn’t clear if they were stuck on one or more of the four charges Officer William Porter faces. He is the first of six officers to stand trial.
Armored vehicles and police were stationed around the city, and officials promised they were prepared for any unrest. Parts of the city burned last spring after Gray’s death triggered frustration over the department’s alleged mistreatment of black people, and authorities were determined to prevent a repeat.
Earlier Tuesday, jurors requested highlighters, an easel and sticky notes, suggesting a businesslike approach to assessing Porter’s role in Gray’s arrest and death. They also received computer speakers to improve the sound quality of recordings in evidence, including Porter’s videotaped interview with Baltimore police detectives, police radio transmissions on the day Gray was arrested and cellphone videos made at two of the wagon’s six stops.
If the jury remains deadlocked, a mistrial would be declared and prosecutors would have to decide whether to put Porter on trial again.
Gray, who was arrested while fleeing from police, died April 19, a week after his neck was broken while the seven-block trip turned into a circuitous, 45-minute journey around West Baltimore. The autopsy concluded that Gray probably suffered the injury from being slammed against the compartment’s metal wall during cornering or braking.
The charges carry maximum prison terms totaling 25 years, but convictions on some of the lesser charges could be merged for sentencing purposes.
The judge denied renewed defense requests to declare a mistrial or try Porter outside of Baltimore. Porter’s lawyers also sought in vain to ask jurors if they’d seen a letter the city schools chief sent home with children Monday, warning against violent responses to a verdict.
The judge said asking jurors about the letter would not be appropriate. The jury has not been sequestered, but they have been warned not to read news articles about the case or talk about it with anyone other than fellow jurors.
Prosecutors concluded that Porter could have saved Gray’s life with two clicks: one to buckle him in with a seat belt and another to summon medical help with his police radio. Instead, they said Porter’s indifference makes him criminally responsible for Gray’s injury.
The defense characterized Porter as a conscientious officer who told supervisors to take Gray to the hospital, even though he testified that the detainee showed no signs of pain or distress before he arrived at the police station critically injured.
Prosecutors said this was a blatant lie.
“Freddie Gray went into the van healthy and he came out of the van dead,” prosecutor Janice Bledsoe said in her closing argument. The transport van “became his casket on wheels.”
Bledsoe showed jurors the unfastened seat belt: “It’s got Gray’s blood on it,” she said.
“Don’t fall for that,” defense attorney Joseph Murtha countered. Expert witnesses disagreed on exactly when Gray’s neck was broken during his trip, and this alone should give jurors reasonable doubt, he said.
Gray’s death was indeed a “horrific tragedy,” he said, but “there is literally no evidence” Porter is responsible.