Jurors deadlocked in Freddie Gray killing trial case

Baltimore Police officer William Porter. © Patrick Samansky
The trial for the first of six Baltimore police officers accused of killing Freddie Gray is now with the jury - and city officials are ready for more outrage in the streets.

They began with three hours of deliberation on Monday before being sent home. On their second day of deliberations, the jury discussed the trial for six hours before sending a note to Williams to say they were deadlocked. Williams told them to return to work and deliberate because their “verdict must be unanimous,” New York Times’ Sheryl Stolberg reported.

Gray’s death in police custody sparked weeks of #BlackLivesMatter protests that led to a state of emergency and the controversial use of the word "thugs" by the Baltimore mayor and President Barack Obama.

The jurors, seven women and five men, adjourned Monday evening without reaching a verdict after two weeks of testimony, but started deliberating again Tuesday morning at 8.30am local time.

Lawyers for the Baltimore police officer made three requests including motions for a mistrial and change of venue. 

Judge Barry Williams denied the motions. He also denied a  request to ask jurors whether they have seen a letter that the city schools chief sent home with children, warning of consequences for violent responses to the  verdict.

William Porter, 26, is the first of six police officers to stand trial for Gray’s death which was ruled a homicide on May 6.

The 25-year-old victim sustained a severe spinal injury in the back of a police van after his arrest on April 12 and died a week later.

Porter is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

While not one of the three officers who initially arrested Gray, Porter was in the police van for the 45-minute ride which made several stops before arriving at the station.

He is accused of failing to get medical assistance for Gray during those stops, despite pleas from the prisoner that he needed help and couldn’t breathe.

READ MORE: First Freddie Gray trial begins in Baltimore as demoralized police prepare for potential riots

Prosecutors told jurors Monday that Porter’s failure to help Gray turned a police van into a "casket on wheels".

Porter's defense attorneys argued the state's case was based on theories, asking jurors to make too many assumptions.

Porter testified that Gray 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 reminded jurors, even though Gray was actually in a coma when he came out of the van on April 12 and died on April 19.

Bledsoe showed jurors the transport wagon’s seat belt with “Gray's blood on it".

"Don't fall for that," countered Porter's attorney Joseph Murtha, who argued that expert witnesses couldn’t agree on when and where Gray's neck was broken.

The Toronto Star reports the jury is wrestling over the terms 'evil motive' and 'bad faith' after Judge Barry Williams told them violating police policies does not necessarily constitute negligence.

Prosecutors claimed the driver, Caesar Goodson, stopped because Gray was acting out and officers laid him on his stomach on the floor, binding him more tightly at the wrists and ankles.

They say they stopped again and officers checked on Gray three more times during the journey.

At one point, Porter lifted Gray to a seated position, but left him unbuckled, according to the prosecution.

They said Gray was seriously hurt by then, but this was denied by Porter who said Gray appeared uninjured.

The van detoured again to put another prisoner in a separate section before Gray finally arrived at the station in a critical condition.

Porter told jurors he asked Gray if he wanted to go to the hospital, but never called a medic because Gray said only "yes".

He also gave evidence that he told Goodson to take him there, because the jail would reject a prisoner even falsely claiming injury.

The city is preparing itself for the possibility of more violence upon the verdict.

Authorities opened an emergency operations center Monday and warned students that the Constitutional right to protest won’t apply to them.

The Baltimore City Public Schools CEO Gregory Thornton sent a letter home with students warning that "student walkouts, vandalism, civil disorder and any form of violence are not acceptable."

Free speech in public schools is a controversial and complex area for administrators.

Students are free to speak their minds on the grounds of a public school, but “there are limits in the school setting... and figuring out where the line is drawn is fairly complicated”, says the Center for Public Education’s guide on Free speech and public schools.

In previous legal test cases, judges weigh “the need for a safe, orderly school environment conducive to learning” versus “the guaranteed American entitlement to speak or engage in expressive activity”.

Read more: Baltimore police were not ready for Freddie Gray riots - report