BALTIMORE (AP) – Attorneys for an officer charged with manslaughter in Freddie Gray’s death sought Monday to discredit a state official’s autopsy report, saying it was only a theory.
Defense attorney Joe Murtha, who is representing Officer William Porter, shouted pointed questions at assistant state medical examiner Dr. Carol Allan during her second day on the witness stand. It was also during her cross examination that defense attorneys raised the issue of whether Gray had injured his back before he was arrested April 12.
Allan said she considered that possibility, but saw no evidence that a prior injury would have contributed to Gray’s death. Another expert witness for the prosecution, neurosurgeon Morris M. Soriano, backed up Allan’s assertion.
After the jury left for the day, defense attorneys moved for a mistrial, saying they obtained a document over the weekend from an encounter Gray had with police in March. In the document, Gray told a detective he couldn’t sit up straight in a chair because, “I hurt my back. I have a bad back.”
After prosecutors said they had just obtained the document Monday, Circuit Judge Barry Williams denied the mistrial motion, but ruled the defense could use the evidence in the trial.
Prosecutors say Porter is partially responsible for Gray’s death, which occurred a week after his neck was broken while he was in handcuffs and leg shackles in the back of a police transport wagon. Prosecutors say the officer failed to buckle Gray into a seatbelt and did not call for a medic when Gray indicated that he needed aid.
Porter is the first of six officers to go on trial and faces manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges. If convicted on all of the charges, he could face about 25 years in prison.
Because no one saw how Gray was hurt, the autopsy provides the most complete narrative of what happened in the back of the police van on April 12, and has served as a key part of the prosecution’s case.
Defense attorneys say it is incomplete and speculative.
Both sides agree on this much: The van carried Gray on a 45-minute ride from his arrest to a police station, making six stops in total. During the second stop, Gray, who was already in handcuffs, was secured in leg shackles and slid into the van on his belly, face-down.
When Porter checked on Gray, during the van’s fourth stop, the man was in the same position.
Allan wrote in the report that Gray’s injuries suggested he had gotten up sometime between the second and fourth van stop, lost his balance due to an “unexpected turning motion, acceleration or deceleration” and was unable to brace himself because his wrists and ankles were restrained.
Murtha questioned the findings.
“Do you have any facts, anything that’s documented, between stops two and four?” Murtha asked.
“Other than he was injured, no,” Allan replied.
Allan also said that if the wagon driver, Caesar Goodson, had taken Gray to the hospital immediately after Porter had asked him to, she would not have ruled Gray’s death a homicide.
Goodson faces the most serious charge of second-degree “depraved-heart” murder. He will go on trial next year.
By raising questions about Allan’s manner-of-death determination, Murtha sought to shift blame onto Goodson.
“If Goodson had followed orders and driven Gray to the hospital, you wouldn’t have considered Gray’s death a homicide?” Murtha said.
Allan responded, “that’s correct.”
When Allan was called back to the stand, she testified that her opinion was more than just a theory: it was based on medical records, police statements and the autopsy itself.
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