There’s been a bit of a bombshell dropped in the trial of Ceasar Goodson, the police officer who drove the van in which Freddie Gray sustained his eventually fatal injuries. We previously discussed the decision by Goodson’s team to opt for a bench trial and allow Judge Barrie Williams to decide his fate rather than facing a jury, along with how that might impact his fate. Now, the early signs are that it might have been a wise choice. Williams is reported to have appeared “visibly angry” on the second day of the trial when it was revealed that prosecutors had intentionally withheld evidence which could seriously tip the case in Goodson’s favor. (ABC News)
The judge overseeing the trial of a police officer charged with murdering Freddie Gray has determined that prosecutors withheld information that would have been beneficial to the defense.
Judge Barry Williams was visibly angry in the Baltimore court but he did not dismiss the charges against police officer Caesar Goodson, as his attorneys had requested. Williams is giving prosecutors until Monday to disclose any other relevant evidence they have withheld. Goodson was the driver of the van during the arrest of Gray, 25, last year.
Goodson’s attorneys have argued that prosecutors withheld statements made last year by Donta Allen, a key witness. Allen was picked up by the Baltimore police van after Gray.
The testimony of Donta Allen could essentially invalidate the entire premise of the prosecution and the timeline of events which they are presenting for the day in question. Allen was picked up on the final leg of the van’s trip, well after Gray’s injuries were alleged to have been suffered. He was in the back of the van on the other side of the barrier from Freddie Gray and, according to the Baltimore Sun, told police during two interviews that he heard Gray moving around and “banging” against the partition while he was in the van. He also testified that the trip was a “smooth ride” while he was in the van, contradicting claims that Gray has been intentionally given a “rough ride” to injure him.
Attached to the documents released Wednesdaywas a transcript of Allen’s taped statement to police the day of the incident. In it, Allen told police that it sounded like Gray “was banging his head against the metal, like he was trying to knock himself out or something.”
Allen said he thought there was “a dope fiend” on the other side of the divider purposefully banging his head, four or five times. “It was like – he wasn’t doing it hard and [expletive], but he was definitely banging himself in the head. I know he was.”
This isn’t a slam dunk for the defense because Allen’s credibility as a witness may be called into question. He was in the back of the van for a reason and the state may try to discredit his testimony. But what benefit would it be to Allen to lie about his ride in the van during two extensive interviews? If he was a criminal offering testimony which might bring a cop down you could understand a healthy dose of skepticism on the part of the judge, but this appears to be the opposite case.
Up until now, Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby has been under fire for mishandling this case from essentially the beginning, but it’s mostly been seen as an inept and potentially biased attempt to punish the cops and send a message to the community. The evidence seemed shaky and the list of charges appeared to be an overreach. But all of these factors could be written off as incompetence or the result of some sort of vendetta. This news, however, could change the entire flavor of the trial for the judge. If Williams concludes that the state has been intentionally hiding evidence in an effort to railroad the cops, the credibility of all the charges could simply collapse, along with what remains of Mosby’s career in law enforcement and politics most likely.
David French summed it up pretty well yesterday at National Review.
Goodson is on trial for “depraved-heart murder” – the most serious of the charges brought in the Gray case – and news of the prosecution’s failure to disclose exculpatory evidence is particularly troubling. The judge stopped short of accusing the prosecutors of intentional misconduct, but senior prosecutors know better. They have no excuse.
The first two Freddie Gray prosecutions were shameful. The current case is off to an inauspicious start. A rush to judgment rarely yields justice.
There are at least three more trials to go in this matter, along with the retrial of Officer Porter. But of all of them, Goodson was seen as the best bet for a conviction and the person most “responsible” for the events as they relate to Freddie Gray’s injuries. If this one falls apart, the wheels have truly come off the wagon and the remaining trials may prove to be a waste of time and taxpayer money.