Freddie Gray case: Defense rests in trial of Officer Caesar Goodson after brief testimony from fellow officer

Freddie Gray case: Officer Edward Nero takes the stand in trial of Caesar Goodson

Testimony concluded Friday in the murder trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. in the death of Freddie Gray, with the officer opting not to take the stand and the judge scheduling closing arguments for Monday.

That puts the case — which carries the most serious charges any of the six officers face — on track for a verdict by midweek.

The defense rested its case just before 11:30 a.m. after brief testimony from Officer Edward Nero, who was acquitted last month of all charges against him. His testimony lasted only minutes, as defense attorneys asked 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.

Goodson, 46, is the third officer to stand trial in Gray's arrest and death in April 2015. He is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and mistrial in December. He is scheduled to be retried in September.

Goodson chose a bench trial, leaving his fate in the hands of Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams rather than a jury.

Prosecutors say Goodson, as the driver of a police van, was responsible for safely transporting Gray to Central Booking after he was arrested near Gilmor Homes on April 12, 2015. They allege Goodson failed to secure Gray with a seat belt in the back of the van and then drove around recklessly, causing Gray's injuries. After Gray was hurt, they allege, the officer failed to get him prompt medical care or take steps to limit further harm.

Gray, 25, died a week later.

Williams has already questioned whether prosecutors presented evidence to prove their theory that Goodson gave Gray a "rough ride," or that Gray showed injuries that would prompt a call to medics.

Chief Deputy 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." Prosecutors also point to an unexplained third stop of the van, after video showed Goodson rolling through a stop sign.

Goodson stopped the van without alerting dispatchers, went to the rear of the vehicle, then called for assistance. Schatzow said inferences could be made about what happened.

Defense attorneys said the state hasn't presented any evidence to support the theory that Goodson drove the van in a reckless manner, noting two state witnesses who said they saw no such proof.

Andrew Jay Graham, one of Goodson's attorneys, said the state appeared to "be making their case up as they go along."

In addition to Nero, defense attorneys called an expert police witness who said it was reasonable for Goodson to have deferred to the actions of other officers who did not put a seat belt on Gray. John J. Ryan, an attorney and former Providence, R.I., police officer, testified that at each stop, other officers were present and took active roles in assessing what to do with Gray, instead of Goodson.

Exasperated prosecutors said it was "common sense" to use a seat belt.

The defense called eight witnesses, including two hired medical experts to counter the opinions of the state medical examiner and a state medical expert.

The testimony of a police officer that Goodson wasn't trained in putting seat belts on prisoners was struck by Williams after the officer said she wasn't sure whether she personally provided Goodson's training.

Williams then denied a motion filed Thursday by Goodson's attorneys to allow as evidence statements made by Schatzow during closing arguments in Nero's trial last month. In those arguments, Schatzow referred to Gray being in the custody of multiple officers — not just Goodson's as the van driver — during certain points of his arrest and being placed in the van.

Williams said the closing arguments in Nero's trial had been more of a freewheeling discussion, and that it wouldn't be appropriate to let the comments into Goodson's trial.

Two defense attorneys who are not involved in the trial but have observed it said the state has put on a weak case. Warren Brown said he was surprised that the state did not take the opportunity to present rebuttal witnesses after the defense case.

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.

The medical examiner, Dr. Carol Allan, asserted in her testimony last week that she never considered an "accident" as the cause of death.

"This whole thing is really an 'Alice in Wonderland' type of situation," Brown said. "I think the prosecution decided early on that they were going to prosecute, and attempted to make the evidence fit. When the [Police Department] investigation showed some reluctance in that regard, it was not acceptable to the prosecution."

Warren Alperstein, another defense attorney, said he thought the defense "did a very good job" of discrediting state witnesses, including Allan. Taylor's testimony "undermined Dr. Allan's credibility, and of course Dr. Allan's conclusions are vital to a successful prosecution," he said.

Douglas Colbert, a University of Maryland law professor who has been supportive of the prosecution, said the tension between police and prosecutors was to be expected because prosecutors made a rare decision to charge the officers.

"The usual way the police and unions are accustomed to is do their own investigation, to recommend that no charges be filed, and for the state's attorney's office to follow the police recommendation. Not in this case," Colbert said.

"The prosecution is saying when you leave somebody unprotected and in a very unsafe situation, where other people have been seriously injured as a result … that may indeed represent a depraved indifference," Colbert said.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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