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Freddie Gray case: Judge to issue verdict in Officer Goodson trial Thursday

Judge Barry Williams says he will issue a verdict in the trial of Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. on Thursday morning.

Baltimore Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. intended to injure Freddie Gray when he drove him around in a police van shackled but without a seat belt, prosecutors said during closing arguments Monday in Goodson's murder trial.

The officer then failed to seek life-saving medical care or drive to a nearby hospital when he realized Gray had suffered severe — and ultimately fatal — injuries, prosecutors said.

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But defense attorney Matthew Fraling said Goodson had acted as a reasonable officer would in all of his interactions with Gray. Gray himself "created the high degree of risk" by changing his position in the back of the van, Fraling said.

After hearing from both sides about Goodson's alleged culpability in Gray's death, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams said he will issue his verdict Thursday morning.

Goodson, 46, was the driver of the police van in which Gray suffered fatal spinal cord injuries last year. He faces the most serious charge of the six officers charged in the case: second-degree depraved-heart murder. He also faces three manslaughter counts, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

In closing arguments, prosecutors alleged Goodson repeatedly breached his constitutional and administrative duties to keep Gray safe. They said he knew of the risk associated with transporting an arrestee in handcuffs and shackles but without a seat belt. He also refused to call a medic for Gray when Gray asked for one and at one point intentionally sought to injure Gray in the back of the van, they said.

"As a result of that breach, the life of Freddie Gray was shortened," said Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe.

Both Bledsoe and Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow argued that Goodson had at least four opportunities to secure Gray with a seat belt and never did — compounding his disregard to a criminal degree.

"Nobody is saying it was one time and it's depraved heart," Schatzow said. "It's repeatedly."

Fraling accused the prosecution of constantly shifting its theory, ignoring the context of witness testimony and asking the court to arrive at a verdict based on conjecture and speculation rather than evidence.

The attorneys are barred by a gag order from commenting on the case outside court.

Gray, 25, died April 19, 2015, a week after his arrest. His death was followed by widespread protests against police brutality, and his funeral was followed by rioting, looting and arson.

Goodson is the third officer to stand trial in the case. The first trial, of Officer William Porter, ended in a hung jury and a mistrial. The second, of Officer Edward Nero, ended in Williams' acquitting Nero of all charges.

The arguments Monday, particularly Schatzow's rebuttal to Fraling's closing, included a number of interjections by Williams.

Williams' most extensive line of questioning pertained to the prosecution's contention that Goodson had intentionally sought to injure Gray by giving him a "rough ride," as Schatzow called it in his opening statements in the case.

Bledsoe, in her closing, did not refer to a "rough ride," but suggested Goodson's driving contributed to Gray's death. When Schatzow took to rebutting Fraling's defense in his own closing, the subject became unavoidable.

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Williams asked Schatzow which of Goodson's actions created a high degree of risk for Gray, and what evidence the state had produced to show a rough ride had been given. Schatzow said it was a combination of things — including the handcuffing and shackling of Gray and the failure to restrain him in a seat belt.

Williams asked whether a rough ride requires intent, and what evidence there was to show that intent. "The state said to the world, 'It's a rough ride,'" he said. But, he asked, could the injuries be consistent with a simple accident?

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."

Williams looked incredulous, and asked why Goodson would stop the van to check on Gray if his intention was to harm him.

"If you're trying to give him a rough ride, what sense does that make?" he said.

Schatzow said "there was a consequence greater than anticipated, and he needed to figure out what to do about it."

Williams also questioned Schatzow on the criminality of Goodson's decision not to call a medic for Gray. He asked Schatzow if Goodson's decision still would have constituted criminal negligence if Gray had not been injured. He also asked whether any officer who fails to call a medic for a person who requests one has committed a crime.

Schatzow said he was "not here to make general pronouncements," but that Goodson's actions, under the given circumstances, would have been criminal even if Gray had not been injured.

Williams questioned Fraling at times, including when Fraling tried to raise doubt as to whether Goodson, as the van driver, was solely responsible for Gray's safety and the decision not to restrain him in a seat belt.

Given that Goodson at some point had to "drive off" alone with Gray in the back, "who else is supposed to figure that out?" Williams asked.

Fraling said Goodson was responsible for Gray's safety at certain points but that the decision not to restrain him in a seat belt was repeatedly made collectively with other officers and with various factors in mind — including that Gray had been combative at previous stops.

Prosecutors questioned the assertion that Gray was combative and therefore a threat to the officers, noting that Porter, who testified in the case, said that Gray was docile at the van's fourth stop. Bledsoe noted that it was undisputed that Porter told Goodson that Gray needed to go to the hospital.

Fraling pointed to that contention as just one of many in which prosecutors were being "disingenuous," attempting to have the court consider evidence without its proper context. He said Porter said Gray should go to the hospital because of "administrative concerns" that he wouldn't be accepted at Central Booking — that is, that he was "malingering" — and not because he was injured. He said Goodson never believed Gray was injured during his transport through the city.

Throughout his closing, Fraling framed the prosecution's case as a deceptive, constantly shifting "three-card monte" card trick. The trick, played by conspiring con artists on street corners, challenges gamblers to keep an eye on and properly identify one of three cards on a table as the dealer shuffles them around, constantly switching out the card in question.

Fraling said the prosecution rode in on the "proverbial high horse" of a "rough ride" theory, then "abjectly failed" to present any evidence that such a ride was given to Gray.

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"Once it was identified there was no rough ride, now it's time to quickly reshuffle the cards," Fraling said.

Fraling said prosecutors ignored the "latitude and discretion" provided by the Police Department's general orders, including one that requires that detainees be restrained in seat belts. He said once Gray became combative, "all bets are off" because a docile Gray could quickly turn combative again.

Williams questioned Fraling on that, suggesting — in line with the prosecution's theory — that Goodson should have reassessed Gray at each stop.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor who has been observing the trial, said the closing arguments depicted a debate over whether Goodson was reasonable or unreasonable in his actions. But that's not the only consideration Williams will weigh in deciding the case, he said.

The difference between "ordinary negligence" — enough to win in a civil case — and criminal negligence is showing that the defendant not only put someone in danger but is "subjectively aware of the risk," Jaros said.

"To be just negligent in a civil sense, someone has to be unreasonable — simply screw up. They could have believed they were acting appropriately, but a reasonable person would have known better," Jaros said. "To be grossly criminally negligent, they have to be aware of the danger and ignore it."

Williams said he will deliver his ruling in the case at 10 a.m. Thursday.

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