Gray case: Prof. David Jaros on state’s opening argument

Professor David Jaros discussed the prosecution’s opening statement with The Baltimore Sun Wednesday as the trial of William Porter got underway. Porter, 26, is the first of six Baltimore police officers to be tried in connection with the April death in police custody of Freddie Gray.

Watch the video here.

Jaros spoke with reporter Ian Duncan outside the courthouse Wednesday afternoon about the statement delivered to the 12 jurors and four alternates by Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow.

Said Jaros: “It was a very clear narrative about what the State’s Attorney’s Office believes happened in the Freddie Gray case. The state’s attorney walked the jury through the entire timeline of the case, explaining what kind of evidence they would see, who they would hear it from and what they believe happened. There was not a great deal of narrative about the larger argument and theory of the case; it was very much about what the state believes happened on April 12.

“The style of the state’s attorney was very clear, very conversational. It was not overly showy, but often what’s most important is the jury believe this is someone who’s telling it like it is.”

Jaros said the Porter case posed a fundamental challenge for the prosecution: “This is a particularly challenging case to prove. The theory of the state’s attorney is not that Officer Porter did something that was a crime, but rather that his failure to do something, his omission, was a crime — and typically in the law we don’t hold people responsible for things they don’t do. However, there are situations where you have a legal duty to act. A parent may have a legal duty to act to save the life of their child. A police officer most certainly has a legal duty to protect the life of his prisoner. And so here the state’s attorney’s theory is Officer Porter had a legal duty to ensure that Freddie Gray was transported safely to booking.”

Continued Jaros: “They have to prove not only that [Porter] had the legal duty, but that he knew that he had a legal duty and he was aware that his failure to fulfill that legal duty would likely lead to the death of Freddie Gray. And that I think is the hardest element for the state’s attorney to prove.”

Learn more about Professor Jaros.

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