The third officer charged in the death of Freddie Gray is on trial, and he is the “center of the universe” for the entire case.
Officer Caesar Goodson drove the police vehicle transporting Gray before his death and is accused of giving Gray a “rough ride,” where a driver intentionally drives recklessly to cause an unbuckled passenger to slide around in the back. Prosecutors are trying to prove Goodson drove dangerously enough to to cause Gray’s fatal injuries and thus warrants a criminal conviction. One Baltimore attorney says the whole case hinges on Goodson’s trial.
“If they can’t prove that they can’t prove anything,” local Baltimore attorney Steve Silverman, who is not representing anyone in the case, told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “The whole point is they put him in the back of a paddy wagon and they roughed him up and that’s why he died. If you can’t even prove causation for the basic theory of the case for the driver of the vehicle and the injury then how can you prove all these ancillary officers did something wrong?”
“Goodson is the center of the universe when it comes to this case,” he added. “If they cant’ prove this case, I don’t know what they’re going to do. If they can’t convict Goodson then they can’t convict anybody.”
Of the two officers already tried, one was acquitted and the other will be tried again because of a mistrial. Goodson is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder, second-degree assault, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment, manslaughter by vehicles (gross negligence and criminal negligence), as well as misconduct in office. Four more trials will come after Goodson.
Goodson elected to have a bench trial, which means he waived his right to a trial by jury and will allow the judge to decide his fate.
“Its always with tremendous trepidation, particularly in Baltimore city, that a criminal defendant would choose a court trial over a jury trial, especially understanding how difficult it is to get twelve people unanimously to convict,” Silverman told TheDCNF. “He has got very good lawyers, and I think they probably feel that they have some very technical and legal defenses that are probably better understood and applied by a judge than a jury.”
Adam Ruther, a Baltimore attorney who previously worked in State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office, told TheDCNF that while the charges against Goodson are the most serious, the evidence against him is weakened because he did not give a statement to police following the incident. Officer Edward Nero opted for a bench trial in the case and was acquitted. Ruther said it’s not unreasonable to think that if the judge gives a not guilty verdict for Goodson, the other officers would be more likely to take a bench trial as well.
“[A ‘not guilty’ verdict] would be an enormous disappointment, but I would be very surprised to see that prosecution pack up and go home just because they get a ‘not guilty’ in this case,” Ruther told TheDCNF.
Silverman said that the defense for the upcoming officers’ trials have an advantage because they have been able to see the prosecution’s strategy play out multiple times.
“These are the most serious charges,” Warren S. Alperstein, a defense attorney referring to Goodson, told The New York Times. “This is, arguably, the make-or-break case for the state. It would be a devastating blow if the state was unable to secure a conviction.”
Jonathan Haggerty contributed to this report.
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