The Baltimore cop who drove the Freddie Gray van is about to go on trial

Get ready for the next round of the Freddie Gray trials, set to get into gear this week. Prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has racked up a 0-1-1 record thus far (no convictions, one acquittal and one hung jury) but this is supposed to be her best target of opportunity. Officer Ceasar Goodson was the driver of the van which Freddie Gray was placed in when his eventually fatal injuries took place and has been pointed to as the “most responsible” officer involved in the incident. (Chicago Tribune)

The stakes are high in the upcoming trial for an officer who prosecutors say bears the most responsibility for the death of Freddie Gray, a young black man whose spine was snapped in the back of a police transport wagon.

The van driver, Officer Caesar Goodson, faces second-degree murder and other charges. He will also face buck-passing from fellow officers who have already testified in two previous trials that if anyone was responsible for ensuring Gray’s safety, it was him.

The officer faces 30 years in prison if he’s convicted of the murder charge. If prosecutors fail to secure a guilty verdict, it will be the third straight trial in which they haven’t gotten a favorable decision: The first trial ended in a hung jury and the second finished with an acquitted [sic] last month.

City Hall is pretty much putting all their chips in on this trial. Officer Nero was acquitted largely because he was barely involved in the arrest, and Officer Porter wasn’t really in any sort of decision making position, leading to a failure to get unanimous consent on the jury. Goodson was the driver and the one allegedly responsible for the safe transport of any prisoners in the vehicle. But Marilyn Mosby once again seems to have vastly overplayed her hand here. Goodson is charged with second-degree “depraved-heart” murder, manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. In order to prove any sort of murder charge, particularly specifying a depraved heart, the state will have to prove that there was intent. They will cite numerous stops made by the driver where Gray was checked on, shackled and moved. But the defense will no doubt argue that the multiple stops and checks included verifying that Freddie Gray was okay and that his injuries were such that no physical, outward signs were present to indicate the extent of his injuries. That’s going to be a tough sell for the prosecution.

Some of the other charges, particularly manslaughter, misconduct and reckless endangerment, might be a bit easier since they could rest on an attitude of callous disregard and simply doing your job very badly. A conviction on any of those might offer Mosby some cover, but won’t deliver the real prize that the Social Justice Warriors are looking for, nor would they carry the same maximum penalty.

The big question once again is whether or not Goodson will opt to face a jury or go for a bench trial, which we should know shortly. Some people close to the defense team have told the Baltimore Sun that he’s expected to choose a jury. It’s a higher risk option, but it’s likely his best hope to avoid any conviction at all under the circumstances. Officer Nero opted for the bench trial because the case against him was so weak that a judge was likely to reject the premise entirely, whereas the wrong jury might have taken him down out of spite. (And that’s exactly what happened.) But with the array of charges against Goodson, a judge might at least send him up on the manslaughter or negligence rap. With a jury, if the defense can seat at least one or two people who aren’t going into these proceedings looking for somebody to blame for Freddie Gray’s death, he may be angling for another hung jury in the same fashion as Porter.

As with the past two spectacles, this one is expected to unwind in fairly short order. We’ll likely have our answer in a month or so at most, so stay tuned. If Marilyn Mosby strikes out on this one her entire crusade will have essentially imploded, because the rest of the trials from here on out are only going to get tougher for her.