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Opening Statements Begin In Trial Of Police Officer Charged In Freddie Gray Case


Opening statements got underway today in the trial of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray. Gray was the unarmed black man fatally injured while in police custody last April. William Porter is the first of six officers to face trial for failing to provide medical aid to Gray. In court today, the two sides painted very different pictures of Porter's role after Freddie Gray's arrest. NPR's Jennifer Ludden was at the trial and joins us now. And, Jennifer, how did the prosecution lay out their argument in the case against Officer William Porter?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Well, Prosecutor Michael Schatzow said evidence would show William Porter is guilty more for what he did not do. Specifically, he did not seatbelt Gray in the police van, and he did not call for medical help. The prosecutor laid out a map of the van ride for jurors moving little dots around the path that this van followed for 45 minutes across West Baltimore. He said that Officer Porter was at five of the six stops the van made. At the fourth stop, he said Porter asked Gray, what's wrong? And said Gray said, I can't breathe. Porter said, do you need a medic? Gray said, yes. But Porter did not call one even though prosecution says he's been trained to do that and had a duty to keep Mr. Gray safe. By the next stop, they say Porter saw that Gray was limp, not moving, not talking, clearly getting worse and still do not call the medic. And then, of course, by the final stop, Mr. Gray was unconscious and in cardiac arrest.

SIEGEL: And did the prosecution say how they think Freddie Gray was fatally injured?

LUDDEN: They did. So they said he was in the van handcuffed, hands behind his back, feet in shackles, facedown. They believe he hit his head on a metal grate at the front of the van, you know, as the van maybe stopped. They likened it to a diving injury when you - the water's too shallow, your head hits, and they said it was the force of the body pushing against the neck - against the head that would have broken his spine. They suggested that it was not possible for someone to bang their own head hard enough to break their spine as some have argued.

SIEGEL: That was the prosecution. How did the defense lay out their opening statement?

LUDDEN: So defense lawyer Gary Proctor said, you know, Mr. Gray's death is tragic but so is charging someone who did not precipitate it. Now, he conceded that Porter did not seatbelt Gray in the van, but he basically said no one did that. It may have been policy, but it was common practice to not seatbelt people under arrest. He also said Gray showed no signs or symptoms of injury and did not complain of any pain. He suggested several times that Officer Porter thought Gray was faking it. He says Porter told investigators it's always a big scene when you arrest Freddie Gray, and he saw Gray shaking the van at one point when the prosecution says that would not have been possible. Finally, the defense says that even the EMT who finally showed up on the scene misdiagnosed the situation. They thought Gray was going through a drug overdose. He said if trained professional makes a mistake, how is a two-year member of the force supposed to know that Gray had, in fact, a fatal spinal injury?

SIEGEL: Jennifer, as you've reported, the defense in this case argued that it wasn't possible to seat an impartial jury because there was so much publicity about it. But they did seat a jury this morning. Tell us about the jury.

LUDDEN: The jury is predominantly African-American and female. Eight of the 12 members are African-American, eight of them are also women. Legal analysts say this is good, that, you know, a jury that reflects Baltimore's racial demographics, which is majority black, could make it easier for some of the public to accept whatever verdict might come out of this trial.

SIEGEL: OK, that's NPR's Jennifer Ludden in Baltimore. Thanks, Jennifer.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.

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