The trial opens on Monday of a Baltimore police officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray, whose death from an injury while in police custody in April became a potent symbol of an ongoing debate in the US over police brutality.
Officer William Porter, 26, is the first of six officers scheduled for separate trials in Baltimore City Circuit Court for Gray's death. The trial will begin with jury selection.
Gray, 25, was pursued and arrested by police after he reportedly fled when an officer made eye contact him. He was found with a "knife clipped to the inside of his front right pants pocket," which was later determined to be legal under Maryland law. Prosecutors later said that police had no probable cause for Gray's arrest.
Gray sustained a severed spine and crushed voice box in police custody after his arrest. His death a week later incited massive protests across the country as well as riots and looting in Baltimore following his funeral, which prompted the city's mayor to send in National Guard troops and impose a curfew to restore order. Gray's death added fuel to an ongoing national debate over police abuse, discriminatory tactics and treatment of minorities.
Porter, who faces charges of second-degree assault, manslaughter, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment, could face more than 25 years in prison if he is convicted on all counts. He is accused of ignoring Gray's requests for medical aid and not putting a seatbelt on him, even though he was shackled and handcuffed.
The other officers are charged with offenses ranging from second-degree murder for van driver Officer Caesar Goodson to misconduct.
Prosecutors have said they want Porter to testify first so they can use him as a potential witness against Goodson and Sergeant Alicia White.
Porter's lawyers have said in court papers that he was ready to testify in his own defense. Three of the six officers, including Porter, are black, and three are white.
David Jaros, a University of Baltimore associate law professor, said prosecutors face a tough challenge in convicting Porter and the other officers.
Police are normally reluctant to testify against other officers and judges and juries tend to acquit in misconduct cases, he said. Prosecutors also will have to show that a reasonable person would have tried to get Gray medical aid and that Porter failed to do so.
"I keep waiting for, if not a smoking gun, at least a warm weapon to reveal itself," he said.
Starting dates for the other trials are from January 6 to March 9. Baltimore agreed in September to pay a $6.4 million civil settlement to Gray's family.