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VERDICT WATCH: Freddie Gray: Trial of Van Driver Officer Caesar Goodson

VERDICT WATCH: Freddie Gray: Trial of Van Driver Officer Caesar Goodson

Judge Barry Williams is expected to release bench verdict Thursday

Thursday morning trial Judge Barry Williams is expected to release his bench verdict in the “Freddie Gray” trial of van driver Officer Caesar Goodson. Officer Goodson is charged with murder, multiple counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Goodson is the third of six charged officers to be tried in the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. The jury trial of Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury, and Porter is scheduled to be re-tried. The bench trial of Officer Edward Nero ended in an acquittal. As was the case with Nero, Goodson also elected to have a bench trial.

The prosecution in all these cases has put forth three distinct theories of criminal liability for the charged officers: (1) Murder by failure to seatbelt; (2) Murder by failure to provide prompt medical care; (3) Murder by “rough ride.”

In the trial of Officer Goodson it appears that the State had planned to wield the “Murder by failure to provide prompt medical care” in seeking a conviction. On the day of trial, however, evidence previously concealed by the prosecution was revealed which seriously undermined that theory of the case.

As a result, literally just before the prosecution had to deliver their opening statement in this trial, they felt compelled to change horses to the third legal theory of the case, “Murder by ‘rough ride’.” That is, that van driver Goodson had deliberately subjected the vehicle transporting Freddie Gray to sudden changes in direction and speed with the intent of subjecting Gray to injury.

Indeed, the Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow’s opening statement focused almost entirely on this “rough ride” theory.

Over the course of the actual trial, however, it became apparent that the prosecutors did not possess any evidence that a “rough ride” had actually occurred. I feel obliged to repeat this: the prosecution was unable to present any evidence that a “rough ride” had actually occurred.

Laughably, what evidence on the “rough ride” issue was presented in court actually contraindicated a rough ride.

Donte Allen, who rode in the same van during the last leg of Gray’s transport, would tell investigators that same day that the van ride was “smooth,” with no conduct by Goodson even suggestive of a rough ride.

Numerous security videos along the van’s route captured its progress, yet none showed any sudden stops or movements. The prosecution argued that Goodson’s failure to come to a complete stop at a stop sign and his crossing the center line in taking a wide right-hand turned was sufficient to support a conviction of murder. In fact, both these actions by Goodson would subject Gray to fewer, not more, centrifugal forces than if Goodson had come to a complete stop or taken a sharper turn.

No witness was found who was willing to testify that the van was driven in a manner consistent with a rough ride.

Even the prosecution’s own purported expert witness on “rough rides” was compelled to concede on the witness stand that he had no personal knowledge nor any basis on which to form an expert opinion that Goodson subjected Gray to a rough ride.

Indeed, so lacking in foundation was the “Murder by ‘rough ride’” theory of the case by the time of closing arguments, that prosecutor Jan Bledsoe made no mention of it whatever in the state’s initial close. That’s right: the legal theory that had totally dominated the prosecution’s opening statement a few days earlier had been completely memory-holed. Instead, Bledsoe argued the prosecution’s two alternative theories of the case: “Murder by failure to seatbelt” and “Murder by failure to provide prompt medical care.”

This discrepancy was, as one might imagine, emphasized by the defense in their own closing arguments. The Associated Press reports that defense attorney Matthew Fraling referred to the prosecution’s changing theory-of-the-day as a game of “Three Card Monty”:

The state came into this matter on the proverbial high horse of a ‘rough ride. They have failed to cobble together any type of case with reasonable inferences, let alone evidence.

And the Baltimore Sun reports Fraling as stating:

Once it was identified there was no rough ride, now it’s time to quickly reshuffle the cards.

After Fraling’s close, prosecutor Schatzow was given the opportunity to rebut, and found himself the subject of some sharp questioning by Judge Williams:

The state brought [“murder by seatbelt”] into the world. You’re the one who said it [in your opening argument]. What did you show?

According to reporting by the Baltimore Sun, Judge Williams also asked Schatzow whether it wasn’t the case that the evidence was equally consistent with a theory of accident as with a “rough ride.”

Williams also expressed skepticism about whether the evidence supported the “murder by failure to provide prompt medical care” theory of the case, asking the prosecutor if Goodson’s conduct would still have been criminal had it turned out that Gray had not actually been seriously injured.

Because Goodson elected a bench rather than a jury trial, Judge Williams serves as both the finder of law and the finder of fact in this case, and he rather than a jury will arrive at a verdict.  A precise time for the release of Judge Williams’ verdict has not been provided by the court, but you can expect us to publish the verdict promptly as soon as it is released.

–-Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

Attorney Andrew Branca and his firm Law of Self Defense have been providing internationally-recognized expertise in American self-defense law for almost 20 years in the form of books, live seminars & online training (both accredited for CLE), public speaking engagements, and individualized legal consultation.
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[Featured Image Source: Baltimore Sun]


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Acquittal on all counts.

The only thing I’m wondering is if the judge will have any harsh words for the prosecutors, or if he will wait until all the related cases have been tried (or dismissed).

    Ragspierre in reply to Observer. | June 22, 2016 at 10:40 am

    I would not look for the judge to SAY much.

    He’s already sent some VERY clear, harsh messages in this trial, including a discovery sanction of no small consequence against the state.

Humphrey's Executor | June 22, 2016 at 10:24 am

As unjust as these trials are to the officers, perhaps they will yield some beneficial purgative effect for Baltimore.

Had there not been riots there would not have been a trial.

    mike01001 in reply to userpen. | June 22, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    The riots and the charges brought were wedded together. The call goes out to the network of community agitators that rioting will ensue based on a false narrative of police brutality. Enter stage left, a mayor and da, with support from Obama, that we can shape the story to make the police look racist, brutish, etc. etc.

Schatzow said city surveillance video showed Goodson rolling through a stop sign and making a wide right turn, crossing the center line in doing so. Less than a block away, Goodson stopped and went to the back of the van to check on Gray without announcing the stop as required over the radio. Not long after, he radioed asking for help checking on Gray.

Schatzow said “logical inferences” could be made from the sequence of events during the ride that Goodson “intended for it to have consequences.”

OK, this guy just has no shame! This is one of those arguments that no trial lawyer with ANY integrity would even make.

    Humphrey's Executor in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2016 at 10:43 am

    The defense was wise to elect a bench trial. A juror (but probably not an entire jury) predisposed against the defendant might latch on to such artifice.

    sequester in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2016 at 1:28 pm

    Nasty insinuation from Shatzow. But really his argument indicates that Goodson checked on the welfare of his prisoner repeatedly. Goodson seems pretty diligent to me.

    Despite the vile insinuation, I am not aware of any evidence that Shatzow has offered that supports the theory that Goodson was aware Mr. Gray was in need of medical attention before the van arrived at police station.

    Can anyone point to me to such evidence that was introduced at trial?

I am so sick of this trial, it should have ended a long time ago!

    “I am so sick of this trial, it should have ended a long time ago!”

    The officers should NEVER have been charged in first place

A sudden stop vs rolling stop does not involve any centrifugal forces.

You missed the fourth card they slipped in at the last minute. The “reasonable officer”.

I remember in the Zimmerman trial, Mantei trying to sneak in a jury instruction that would make it the responsibility of the defense to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Tray-child was committing aggravated assault beyond “a reasonable doubt”. He was trying yo switch the burden of proof. The judge wouldn’t by it. In another case
( “The Case of the Shooting at Boyfriend Woman” ) they actually did get that instruction and an appeals court overturned the verdict.

Here the prosecution is trying to change change the burden of proof subtly. Instead of having the judge decide whether Goodson is guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, theya re trying to get him to decide whether a “reasonable officer” would do what Goodson did.

    Ragspierre in reply to RodFC. | June 22, 2016 at 11:43 am

    Yah, no, that’s wrong.

    The burden of proof is the same…beyond reasonable doubt.

    The “reasonable officer” argument is an element in getting to criminal negligence. That is, would a “reasonable officer” act according to what we’ve shown by the evidence was the case here. As I understand it, that is a threshold that you have to cross before moving on to the “ignoring a known danger” aspect (element) for criminal negligence.

      RodFC in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2016 at 12:33 pm

      Well Mr. Criminal Lawyer, I did not say that the burden changes on paper. I meant that they were trying to change the burden of proof in the judge’s mind.

Actually the judge did say that he would announce the verdict on Thursday at 10 am.

It will be interesting to see how Judge Williams will express himself in his decision. On the one hand, from previous actions, it appears that the judge has an interest in supporting the state, in these matters. On the other hand, the state, by presenting cases for which they have NO factual evidence and no circumstantial evidence, and the defense, by requesting bench trials, have placed him in the position of ruling correctly for acquittal. If he does that, which he most likely will, he faces the political ramifications of being made the scape goat by the DA and other political leaders for their failure to garner convictions. He can not be a happy camper, at this point. I can’t wait for his decision.

Mac 45
I think the Judge is beginning to realize this is a turkey.
He is elected though and I think he will take the safe course and let the trials unfold.
I imagine all the other Officers will take a bench trial.
Maybe by the end the prosecution will give up on Porter ,but I doubt it.
In the SJW world ,the statement made by the trials is as important as the verdict.
They know the police will look over their shoulders and the protected classes will have more room to destroy

inspectorudy | June 22, 2016 at 1:51 pm

I believe that this judge along with his friends have or are coming to the conclusion that the prosecution is a bunch of amateurs and that he isn’t going to let his reputation be ruined by them. From his point of view, there is no scenario where he will benefit from siding with them or even tolerating their amateurish tactics. I also think that the first of the trials have been handled so poorly that he can almost expect the remainder to be as bad. If that is the case then he is home free and only needs to add a post-trial critical summary of the poor performance by the prosecution.

    sequester in reply to inspectorudy. | June 22, 2016 at 2:37 pm

    We will know tomorrow.

    But you raise a good point. The clique that make’s up Baltimore’s elite (and that includes this judge) may have decided that the evidence is so flimsy, it is time to cut Mosby loose.

Old_Soldier | June 22, 2016 at 3:00 pm

Apparently the “independent” investigation by the Baltimore City Sheriff was a rubber stamp –

    Ragspierre in reply to Old_Soldier. | June 22, 2016 at 3:49 pm

    But Assistant Sheriff Samuel Cogen, who was assigned to assist on the case, said he had “no involvement in the investigation whatsoever” and was given evidence after the fact and informed of prosecutors’ determination.

    “I was also presented with a narrative that formed the basis of the application for statement of charges that I completed by the State’s Attorney’s Office,” said Cogen, who swore out the warrants. “The facts, information and legal conclusions contained within … as well as the charges lodged against plaintiff came entirely from members of the State’s Attorney’s Office.”

    Oh…!!! Chit…!!!

      Gremlin1974 in reply to Ragspierre. | June 22, 2016 at 7:57 pm

      Rags get the popcorn ready this should be entertaining.

      Question, how would this affect the civil suit in your opinion?

        Ragspierre in reply to Gremlin1974. | June 22, 2016 at 8:05 pm

        I’d say this…

        1. it’s apparently split off Cogen from his co-defendents in the civil actions

        2. it gives the whole civil case legs in the public view

        3. it throws into question the issue of malice in the prosecutor’s office–it isn’t just an accusation now, but a likelihood, or at least a distinct possibility.

The Livewire | June 22, 2016 at 4:54 pm

I’m going to be the cyinic. They’re going to find him guilty of *something* to appease the mob, and that’s why it’s coming out tomorrow. Making sure it didn’t get buried in the terrorist attack in Orlando.