In latest Freddie Gray trial, defense rests with claims of "freakish accident"

Judge Barry Williams has kept things moving along on schedule in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson, with the defense resting on Friday shortly before noon. Closing arguments in the bench trial are expected on Monday, with the judge’s decision to come as soon as Wednesday or Thursday of next week. The final witness in the case was Goodson’s fellow officer Edward Nero, who raised even more questions about the prosecution’s claims regarding the transport of Freddie Gray when he was taken into custody. (Baltimore Sun)

The defense rested their case just before 11:30 a.m. Friday after brief testimony from Officer Edward Nero, who was acquitted of all charges last month. His testimony lasted only minutes as defense attorneys asked him about Gray’s behavior during his initial placement into the police van.

Nero described Gray as “very passive aggressive” and said he was screaming and yelling, then “violently” shook the van once placed inside. The prosecution was limited on the questions it could ask Nero on cross examination…

Williams has already questioned whether prosecutors had presented evidence to prove the rough-ride theory or that Gray showed any injuries that would prompt a call to medics.

Deputy Chief State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said Thursday that Goodson had five chances to fasten a seat belt on Gray, and the failure to do so “demonstrates a depraved heart.” They point to an unexplained third stop of the van, after video showed Goodson rolling through a stop sign.

The last few witnesses seemed to put even more holes in the claims of the prosecutor, and reporters covering the trial seemed to find Judge Williams “skeptical” of some of their claims. The primary factor in their efforts to prove Goodson guilty of “depraved heart murder” is the so called rough ride which Gray received. Based on all of the testimony, it sounds more and more like the State is talking about an illegal police practice which they’ve heard of anecdotally, but they failed to produce a single witness to corroborate the suggestion that it actually happened. Further, Porter’s testimony about Gray’s attitude and actions during the arrest line up with the previously suppressed account of Donta Allen, who was in the van with Gray and said that the ride was normal and that Freddie Gray was acting in a bizarre fashion, banging around in the back of the van.

The defense also closed with another direct challenge to the original cause of death listed for Freddie Gray. The prosecution had relied on the statements of Assistant Medical Examiner Dr. Carol Allan, who signed off on the original documents labeling the death a homicide. But additional suppressed evidence claimed that she had originally thought it might have been an accident. That was backed up on Thursday with yet another witness.

On Thursday, a police detective, Dawnyell Taylor, testified that the state medical examiner had told police during two meetings that she believed Gray’s death was the result of a “freakish accident” and not a homicide. Prosecutors attacked Taylor, saying they had sought to have her removed from the investigation because they believed she was “sabotaging” their case.

That seems to be the closing theme of the defense, which has attempted to show that Gray was banging his own head against the walls of the police vehicle and may have caused the “freakish accident” himself. As far as what the judge will decide, unless Williams is finding something very different from what we’re hearing, the idea of a depraved heart murder charge may be off the table. But a full acquittal for Goodson may be unlikely as well. The questions during testimony keep coming back to the fact that Freddie Gray was not fastened in with a seat belt and it was somebody’s responsibility to do so. As the driver of the van, Goodson may be the best target for that charge, so I won’t be terribly shocked if the judge brings him in on a charge of negligence.