Prosecution appears to make little ground on any of its theories of guilt
News reports this evening indicate that the third day of the “Freddie Gray” trial of police van driver Officer Caesar Goodson has been pretty much of a nothing burger.
The prosecution has floated, to one degree or another, three theories of the case, as we described in some detail in our prior post: Freddie Gray: The Relevance of Donte Allen’s Changing Earwitness Testimony.
Let’s take a look at each theory of the case in light of the reporting on today’s events at trial.
Theory of the Case #1: Murder by Failure to Seatbelt
The first of the prosecutors’ three theories of the case is that van driver Goodson ought to be convicted of depraved-heart murder and lesser charges because he neglected to seatbelt Gray into the police van.
The Baltimore Sun coverage suggests that the highlight of the day was when Officer William Porter, himself having already been through a hung jury in the matter of Freddie Gray’s death, testified that it would have been physically possible to seat belt Gray into the van. The Sun recounts the exchange with Prosecutor Michael Schatzow:
Schatzow: “Did you have the opportunity to seat belt him?”
Porter: “I guess so.”
Of course, the legal issue isn’t merely whether any of the officers could have buckled Gray in, the question is whether they had a legal duty to do so, as well as whether violation of that purported legal duty constitutes–in the particular case of defendant Goodson–depraved-heart murder.
As noted in previous posts, the State remains unable to demonstrate with any degree of certainty that the seat belt rule, technically put in place only days before Gray’s arrest and injury, was actually promulgated to or seen by any of the six officers charged in Gray’s death.
If the officers did not know of the new rule, and the Baltimore Police Department made no particular effort to ensure that they knew, then the officers clearly could not have been bound a legal duty of which they could not have been aware. If they were not bound by the purported legal duty, there could be no violation of it, and therefore no criminal liability.
I remind the reader again that the prosecutors’ burden is not merely to prove that the officers perhaps, maybe, could have been guilty of committing a crime, but rather to prove the officers guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The evidence and theories put forth by the prosecutors to date seem unlikely to meet that burden.
Theory of the Case #2: Murder by Failure to Provide Medical Care
The second of the prosecutors’ theories of the case is that Goodson should be convicted of depraved-heart murder because he failed to provide Gray with timely medical care after becoming aware of Gray’s need for urgent care.
We discuss in some detail in the prior post how untenable this theory is given even just the State’s own evidence obtained from its medical examiner, Dr. Carol Allan: Freddie Gray: The Relevance of Donte Allen’s Changing Earwitness Testimony.
Today’s testimony by Officer Porter did nothing to strengthen the narrative of this theory of the case:
Porter said he never observed any serious injury to Gray. After the van’s fourth stop – a time period in which the medical examiner has determined Gray was already seriously injured – Porter said Gray used his legs to support his weight as Porter helped him up.
Obviously, if at the 4th stop Gray was using his legs to help lift himself onto the bench it is exceedingly unlikely that he had already suffered a neck injury that had effectively severed his spine. Thus the traumatic injury that ultimately cost his life had not yet occurred at the 4th stop, contrary to medical examiner’s testimony at Porter’s own trial that she believed Gray’s injury had occurred between the 2nd and 4th stop.
Further questioning of Porter by Schatzow on this point did not seem helpful to the prosecutors’ narrative:
Porter testified that Gray was face down on the van floor, and Porter asked him, “What’s up?” Gray responded, “Help,” and asked to be helped up to the bench inside the van. Porter said he climbed in, and helped Gray to get himself onto a bench.
Schatzow had Porter read portions of a transcript of his interview with investigators last year, in which he did not say that Gray was able to get himself up with Porter’s assistance.
Porter testified Monday there was “no possible way I could lift a 150-pound man in that tiny compartment” alone, and said he hadn’t been more specific in his initial interview because he wasn’t asked.
One of Goodson’s attorneys, Matthew Fraling, asked Porter why he personally didn’t call a medic for Gray.
“I didn’t see any immediate medical distress from Mr. Gray,” Porter said.
Theory of the Case #3: Murder by Rough Ride
Although prosecutors had apparently focused much of their opening statement on this “rough ride” theory of the case, news reports make no mention of this theory having been addressed in today’s court room proceedings. For reasons described in the prior post, I expect nothing much to come from this theory, for which I suspect the prosecution literally has no evidence whatever.
OK, folks, that’s about it for today. More tomorrow, I’m sure.
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