Maryland high court to hear appeals in Freddie Gray death
An image of Freddie Gray in the hospital, broadcast by local news outlet WJZ (Screenshot)

Maryland's highest court is set to hear oral arguments on Thursday on whether prosecutors can force a Baltimore City police officer to testify against fellow officers also charged in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who had been in police custody.

Six officers face a variety of charges related to the death of Gray, 25, who was arrested on April 12 in West Baltimore. He suffered a fatal neck injury while being transported in a police van and died one week later, setting off protests and later rioting on the day of his funeral.

Gray's death was one in a series of controversial killings of black men by police officers that sparked a wave of protests in cities including Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland and New York and gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Seven judges on the state's Court of Appeals will consider whether officer William Porter, whose criminal trial ended with a hung jury in December, can be compelled to testify against his colleagues even as he faces a scheduled retrial in June.

Both the prosecution and the defense have lodged appeals, after Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams, who is overseeing all six cases, handed each side a victory on the issue.

Williams previously ruled that Porter, 26, must testify against both Officer Caesar Goodson, who was driving the van and faces second-degree murder charges, and Sergeant Alicia White, one of his superiors.

But the judge also denied the state's motion to force Porter to testify against the other three officers - Lieutenant Brian Rice and Officers Garrett Miller and Edward Nero - saying prosecutors were trying to stall those trials.

Porter was granted immunity to testify against Goodson and White but has nevertheless asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The trials have all been put on hold pending a decision from the court and it is unclear when it will come.

The court hearing comes days after a Baltimore citizen's advocacy group released a report culled from six months' of interviews with residents in the area where Gray lived. It noted a need for increased reforms between police and the communities they serve, citing an atmosphere of mistrust and abuse allegations.

(Writing by Joseph Ax; Editing by Scott Malone and Bill Trott)