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Freddie Gray case: State rests case against Goodson after 'rough ride' expert testifies

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the murder trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., after calling a police expert witness who testified about so-called

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday in the murder trial of Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., after calling a police expert witness who testified about so-called rough rides but couldn't say whether the Baltimore officer gave such a ride to Freddie Gray.

The state concluded its presentation after calling 21 witnesses over five days. The defense then filed a motion for acquittal, arguing that there is not enough evidence for the case to go forward. Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, who Goodson chose to decide his fate rather than a jury, will rule on that motion Thursday morning before the defense begins its case.

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Wednesday's testimony featured two witnesses: the medic who responded to treat Gray when he was found not breathing at the Western District police station, and Neill Franklin, a retired state trooper who once oversaw training for the Baltimore Police Department. Franklin was called to testify about "retaliatory prisoner transportation practices" and police training.

Goodson, 46, has pleaded not guilty to second-degree murder, three counts of manslaughter and related charges. Prosecutors allege that he failed to secure Gray with a seat belt in the back of a police transport van and intentionally drove him around in a reckless manner. Defense attorneys have said Gray's injuries were a tragic accident.

Gray, a 25-year-old black man, suffered a severe spinal injury in the van on April 12, 2015, and died a week later.

Franklin testified that prisoners who were unsecured but shackled in a police van would have no way to stop themselves from becoming "projectiles."

"It's extremely important that the ride be as smooth as possible to prevent the person in the back from being propelled around the inside," Franklin testified.

Defense attorney Matthew Fraling asked Franklin whether he had seen anything in his review of surveillance video which suggested that Goodson had driven the van erratically.

"It's not your contention that Officer Goodson in any way engaged in a rough ride?" Fraling pressed Franklin.

"I can't say for sure," Franklin replied.

Franklin, now executive director of the drug-reform group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, testified that a seat belt would not necessarily have ensured that Gray would have been secured in the van. But he contended that Goodson should have at least tried to put a seat belt on Gray on several occasions, saying he saw no evidence that Gray posed a safety risk for officers.

Franklin's testimony underscored prosecutors' difficulty in proving their theory of a rough ride. A previous state witness, Detective Michael Boyd, also testified under cross-examination that he saw nothing in the videos to suggest that the van took an abrupt path. And Donta Allen, who was arrested later and placed into the back of the van with Gray, told investigators last year that he had a "smooth ride," though prosecutors question the legitimacy of his comments.

David Jaros, a University of Baltimore law professor, said after observing the proceedings Wednesday that prosecutors "seem to have overpromised" in saying that they would show that Goodson gave Gray a rough ride.

"Without the rough ride, it's hard to get to the mental state of wanton and reckless disregard for human life necessary for depraved-heart murder," Jaros said of the second-degree murder charge.

Prosecutors could push on with that charge, Jaros said, by shifting the focus of their case to other elements of disregard for Gray's life that they think they have proved.

The state contends that Gray was hurt earlier in the van's journey and that officers failed to get him needed medical help. They point to an unexplained stop, at which point Goodson radioed for help. Goodson, one of six Baltimore officers charged in the case, has not given a statement about that day's events. All have pleaded not guilty.

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Prosecutors suffered a setback Wednesday morning when Williams ruled that he would allow into evidence a police detective's notes from an April 2015 meeting with Dr. Carol Allan, the medical examiner who performed Gray's autopsy.

The notes suggest that Allan was considering ruling Gray's death an accident rather than a homicide, a contention that Allan said was untrue during her testimony last week.

"The word 'accident' never crossed my lips to anyone, other than to say, 'This is not an accident,'" she said on the witness stand Friday.

Williams said the notes normally would not be allowed into evidence because the alleged comments were hearsay. But he allowed them as a remedy for investigators' not having turned the notes over to the defense ahead of trial, the second prosecutorial violation that Williams has found during Goodson's trial.

Last week, Williams told prosecutors to go back to their case files and search again for any evidence that they had not disclosed to the defense. Williams gave that order because of an undisclosed interview with Allen, the second man in the van, which Williams said should have been turned over.

The weekend review turned up a handful of additional disclosures, including the notes about the meeting with the assistant medical examiner, taken by Baltimore Police Detective Dawnyell Taylor.

Taylor is listed as the lead investigator in the indictment charging the six officers in Gray's death, but has not been called as a witness at any of the trials.

The Baltimore Sun reported last year that a rift developed between Taylor and Deputy State's Attorney Janice Bledsoe during the investigation of the case. Prosecutors stopped communicating with her about the case after an argument over the legality of the knife that Gray had been found carrying upon his arrest, Taylor said last year.

The medic who responded to the Western District police station to treat Gray after the van arrived also took the stand Wednesday. The medic, 17-year veteran Angelique Herbert, testified that it was immediately apparent that Gray was not breathing.

"What the f--- did you guys do?" Herbert testified she said to the officers.

Among the officers with Gray at that point were Goodson, William Porter and Zach Novak. Novak, who was given immunity from prosecution by the state's attorney's office, was holding Gray and told Herbert that the prisoner might have hit his head against the van walls. Porter and Goodson shrugged, she said.

After a brief discussion with the officers, Herbert said she began treating Gray for a possible drug overdose. He had a small amount of blood and froth under his nose. She also said he had become incontinent.

Herbert testified that Goodson helped her load Gray onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.

The defense is pointing to Herbert's observation as an indication that Gray was injured shortly before the van arrived at the Western District.

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No officer who interacted with Gray before that has testified about or given a statement that included such observations. Defense medical experts have testified that the impact of Gray's injury would have been sudden and apparent shortly after it occurred.

Goodson is the third city officer to go on trial in the Gray case. In May, Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero, who participated in Gray's arrest and helped place him into the van, on all charges. In December, Williams declared a mistrial in Porter's case after a jury was unable to reach a unanimous verdict on any of the four charges against him. He is scheduled to be retried in September.

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin George contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

krector@baltsun.com

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