Law professor Doug Colbert responds to the prosecution’s cross examination of defendant officer William Porter
JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: Today Officer William Porter, the first of six officers to face trial for the death of Freddie Gray, took the stand in his own defense, where prosecutors asked him if he failed to protect Freddie Gray’s life. Their two main allegations are that he didn’t provide prompt medical care, and he failed to seatbelt in Freddie Gray. Porter responded no, Gray was not injured when he interacted with him. If he was injured he would have called a medic. But in cross-examination the prosecution seized on several key inconsistencies between Porter’s testimony and what he had previously told police investigators. To discuss this, I talked to Doug Colbert, a professor of law and legal expert at the University of Maryland law school. DOUG COLBERT: We’re looking at two different sets of statements, here. One that Officer Porter made to the investigating officers and the other one that he testified during the trial. First piece of evidence the jury is going to reach for is going to be Officer Porter’s video. Jury’s going to have to decide whether Officer Porter’s inconsistencies are ones that he handled correctly at trial, or whether there are still unanswered questions about why he didn’t seatbelt and why he didn’t seek medical help. REPORTER: Isn’t it, in your experience, do you typically put your defendant up on, on the witness stand? COLBERT: We never call our clients defendant. But that was just an aside. REPORTER: I got–I’m with you on that. Makes sense. COLBERT: Usually my clients do not testify. I often focus on the weakness in the prosecution’s case. But where my client has made a full statement to police, usually there are matters that need clarification. That explains why Officer Porter’s testifying. REPORTER: Right. Because that opens him up, though, for cross-examination. COLBERT: Well, and, and some of his answers [if they] were different, or less com–or more complete, at least, than what he told the officers, the detectives who questioned him. And that, that’s pretty important. Because we’re talking there about issues of, of safety. He did not mention his concern for safety when he spoke to the detectives. And what’s odd about the safety issue is that he apparently admits to assisting Freddie Gray to getting on the bench. He didn’t seem concerned about safety then. So why would he be concerned at other points? REPORTER: It seemed that he was disavowing his own statement that he gave to investigators two days before Freddie Gray died. Is this more strategy, or is this kind of him trying to get to the jury that he didn’t have a chance to complete his thoughts or complete his answer? COLBERT: The day began with the expert testimony, a defense witness rejected some of what Freddie–some of what Officer Porter told the detectives. So when you start rejecting parts of what you previously said, and then you are focused on explaining other matters that are different than what you told the investigators, jury must wrestle with those differences and inconsistencies. NOOR: And it’s those details that he expanded on today that would make it so he wasn’t directly responsible for Gray’s injuries. Is that correct? COLBERT: Yes. So no, if the jury accepts today’s testimony then they’re likely to find not guilty. However, there’s a lot of room for the prosecution to argue that the jury should not accept what the officer said to them. NOOR: And the final officer, final witness, officer Novak, do you think his testimony may have been damaging for the defense? COLBERT: I think there were parts of Officer Novak’s testimony that affirms Officer Porter received information from Freddie Gray saying, I need to see a doctor, I need a medic. So that certainly helps the prosecution’s case. REPORTER: Do you think that Officer Porter helped his own case because at one point during his testimony he tried to rely on that order K-14 to say, this dictates how I had to stand guard at the hospital, and then all of a sudden he said that 11-14 had that but it turned out, it didn’t mention anything about a hospital, 11-14. COLBERT: I think the jury’s going to have to find that there was a, a good reason why Officer Porter did not respond to Freddie Gray’s call to go to a hospital. They may find it. But that’s going to be a big issue in the case.
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