Closing Arguments Complete In Trial Of Baltimore Officer Caesar Goodson

Jun 20, 2016
Originally published on June 20, 2016 7:30 pm
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Officer Caesar Goodson drove the van that Freddie Gray was put in after his arrest in April last year. Gray died a week later. In Baltimore, prosecutors say that happened because of a severe neck injury he suffered in that van. Of the six officers facing charges in Gray's death, officer Goodson's are the most serious. Prosecutors made their final case today. NPR's Jennifer Ludden was there.

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Prosecutors opened this case alleging that Officer Caesar Goodson gave Gray a rough ride, purposefully driving the van in a dangerous way. But their own witnesses have said they aren't sure that happened. In today's closing arguments, that question came down to how Goodson made a right turn.

Prosecutors showed video of him rolling past a stop sign, veering into the other lane. They say that's when Freddie Gray fell and broke his neck. They say Officer Goodson also bears responsibility for repeatedly failing to seatbelt Gray even though his hands and feet were shackled and for repeatedly failing to call a medic even after Gray said he wanted one.

Besides second degree depraved hard murder, Goodson's also charged with manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. David Jaros of the University of Baltimore says for there to be a finding of criminal liability, prosecutors must have proven Goodson intended to harm Freddie Gray.

DAVID JAROS: If he simply was being callous and unfeeling and treating people without thinking about them as the system tends to do, that's an indictment of the whole system, but it's not necessarily indicative of him committing a crime here.

LUDDEN: Judge Barry Williams honed in on this, grilling prosecutors. How do you know there was intent, he asked. Are you saying just because someone's not seatbelted, it's a rough ride? He suggested maybe Goodson's wide turn was more gentle than a sharp turn. Baltimore defense attorney Warren Alperstein, an observer in the courtroom, says the judge didn't let go.

WARREN ALPERSTEIN: I mean, he was like a shark having just clamped on. And just when you think that interrogation by Judge Williams was going to end, it didn't. It kept going.

LUDDEN: Goodson's defense attorneys essentially blamed Freddie Gray for his own injury. They said he created the risk to his life by standing up in the van instead of staying on the floor where officers had placed him. They also said there was no physical sign of Gray's neck and spinal injury, no way for officers to know he was in distress.

Tessa Hill Aston of the local NAACP says she's disappointed prosecutors didn't show more evidence of a rough ride, but she's still convinced there was one.

TESSA HILL ASTON: It was a rough ride because I talk to people every day in the street who's had a rough ride. So a rough ride could constitute just going one block, a half a block and them shaking the van.

LUDDEN: Arthur Johnson was among a small group of protesters outside the courthouse calling for justice for Freddie Gray. He was struck by what the court did not hear. Defendant Goodson did not take the stand.

ARTHUR JOHNSON: Now, I'm from the old school, the Perry Mason school. And there's only one reason you don't want to testify, and that means that you might incriminate yourself. If you did everything you were supposed to do, where could the incrimination come in?

LUDDEN: This is the third trial in the case with no convictions so far. If Goodson's not convicted, legal analysts say prosecutors will be hard-pressed to convict any of the remaining officers slated for trial over the summer and fall. Judge Williams says he'll issue a verdict Thursday. Jennifer Ludden, NPR News, Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.