When the trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, one of six charged in the Freddie Gray case, begins Thursday morning at Courthouse East, prosecutors will be at a distinct disadvantage.
Circuit Judge Barry Williams ruled during pre-trial motions that prosecutors cannot mention a phone call between Officer William Porter and an investigator in the case in which Porter said he told Goodson that Gray “couldn’t breathe.”
That decision, says legal analyst and defense attorney Warren Brown, gutted the state’s murder case against Goodson.
“That was the thrust of the state’s case of depraved heart,” he says, ”that this was a callous, wanton disregard for the health and welfare of Freddie Gray because you, Officer Goodson, had been told by Porter that Freddie said he can’t breathe.”
Goodson, who drove the van that transported Gray to the Western District station, is charged with second degree depraved heart murder among other crimes. The state medical examiner has ruled that Gray suffered the injuries that led to his death in that van. Prosecutors accuse Goodson of knowing Gray asked for help and not giving it to him.
Detective Syreeta Teel testified during Porter’s trial last December that she contacted him April 15, 2015 -- four days before Gray died -- to find out what happened during the van’s fourth stop at Druid Hill Avenue and Dolphin Street. Porter had responded to Goodson’s call to check on the prisoner there.
Teel said Porter told her that Gray said ‘he couldn’t breathe.’
But Porter denied that when he was on the witness stand in his own defense. His trial ended in a hung jury. He is to be re-tried in September on several charges including involuntary manslaughter and assault.
Goodson’s lawyers argued the conversation amounts to hearsay and should not be allowed. Williams agreed; forbidding prosecutors from even mentioning that Porter made a statement to Teel.
Former City Prosecutor Warren Alperstein says the state now has problems because they were relying on Porter’s statement to Teel.
“Judge Williams made it clear that because the detective who took that statement over the telephone didn’t record it, that statement’s not going to come in,” he says.
But Porter is expected to be heard from during Goodson’s trial. He is being forced to testify as a state witness against Goodson.