Judge Barry Williams expressed concerns about the state's case for second-degree murder against Officer Caesar Goodson but allowed the state's case to move forward after a defense request for an acquittal.
The defense made the request after the state rested its case, arguing prosecutors had shown no evidence to support their theory that Goodson gave Freddie Gray an intentional "rough ride" in the back of a police van, causing fatal neck injuries.
"There's been nothing introduced to support the state's centerpiece of its case: that Officer Goodson gave Freddie Gray a rough ride," Andrew Jay Graham told Williams Thursday morning.
Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow countered that the evidence presented so far is enough to "infer" that Goodson's conduct caused harm to Gray. He said Goodson had five opportunities to secure Gray with a seat belt and did not.
"I would respectfully submit that five times is enough to demonstrate a depraved heart," Schatzow said.
Williams noted that he had to view the evidence in the "light most favorable to the state" when asked to grant a motion for judgment of acquittal and without hearing testimony from both sides. He denied the motion, though he noted it was a "closer call" on the second-degree murder charge.
Williams questioned Schatzow before making his ruling, at one point saying the state had no evidence of anyone observing a "physical manifestation of anything wrong" with Gray prior to him being discovered not breathing in the back of a transport van.
He also asked the state to acknowledge that it had not presented evidence of a rough ride.
"The No. 1 piece of evidence," Schatzow responded to that question, "is that the man suffered an injury that killed him."
"The fact that a very serious, fatal injury was suffered is a fact from which an inference can arise," he said.
Graham, the lead defense attorney for Goodson, had argued that the state lacked evidence for its theory. He said the state's witnesses had testified on cross examination that they saw no video evidence of the van being driven in an abrupt manner, and said the state put forward no eyewitnesses from along the van's route.
He also said that the state hadn't shown that Goodson was involved in putting Gray in the van or that Gray couldn't have unbuckled a seat belt if it had been fastened.
Schatzow said police general orders require officers to seat belt prisoners for their safety.
"It is a policy, it is not a law," Williams said. He noted that he had prevented the defense from bringing up the fact that other surrounding jurisdictions do not have seat belts at all in their arrest vans.
But Schatzow said that Goodson knew the consequences of not buckling in a prisoner. "He, knowing about those potential consequences, caused the van to be driven, knowing Gray was not seatbelted at the first stop and every stop thereafter" while also being handcuffed and shackled, and therefore unable to brace himself if the van made a sudden stop or turn.
Schatzow also said that "admittedly limited CCTV" footage shows the van rolling through a stop sign and making a wide turn, just moments before Goodson made an unexplained stop of the van that was not reported to dispatchers. After that, he called for assistance from other officers.
Prosecutors believe Gray was hurt in that moment.
"Some of these are inferences," Schatzow said.
"They are," Williams responded.
Gray, 25, died a week after his arrest in April of last year from a severe spinal cord injury that both sides agree he suffered in the back of the van. They have argued over when and how the injury occurred during Gray's 45-minute transport in the back of the van.
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Goodson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree depraved heart murder, three counts of manslaughter and related charges.
The defense proceeded by calling their first witnesses Thursday.
The prosecution concluded its case Wednesday after calling a police expert witness who testified about so-called rough rides but couldn't say whether Goodson, the driver of the van in which Gray was injured, gave such a ride to Gray.
The state called a total of 21 witnesses over five days. The court has not said how long the defense expects to take in presenting its case.
Goodson is the third Baltimore police officer of the six charged in the case to go to trial. The first, of Officer William Porter, who testified in Goodson's case, was declared a mistrial in December after a 12-member jury could not reach a consensus on any of the charges against him. He is scheduled to be retried in September.
The second, of Officer Edward Nero, ended with Williams acquitting Nero of all charges in a bench trial last month.
Goodson has also elected to have Williams decide his fate, rather than a jury.