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Goodson trial is the one to watch

Goodson Mug Shot: Baltimore Police/Graphic: P. Kenneth Burns

The trial of Officer Caesar Goodson, the third of six Baltimore police officers charged in the death last year of Freddie Gray, begins Monday morning with motions hearings in Courthouse East. Goodson drove the van in which prosecutors say Gray suffered his fatal injuries. 

He faces the most serious charges in the case; second degree depraved heart murder, involuntary manslaughter, assault, gross negligent manslaughter by vehicle, criminal negligent manslaughter by vehicle and misconduct in office.

Legal analysts say this may be the most important trial yet. Prosecutors have yet to get a conviction in this case. Officer William Porter’s trial ended in a hung jury last December; he’s to be re-tried in September. And Circuit Judge Barry Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero of all charges in May.

Defense Attorney Warren Brown, who has been watching the trials, calls Goodson’s trial the “kingpin” of the state’s case and says prosecutors need a conviction here.

"If Goodson doesn’t work out for them in terms of a substantial conviction then it really undermines the vitality of the balance of their case against Miller, who’s in a similar situation as Nero, Sgt. White who everybody’s scratching their head as to why she was even charged," Brown says.

Brown was referring to Officer Garrett Miller and Sgt. Alicia White – two of the others charged in Gray’s death - whose trials are scheduled for July and October, respectively. Both have been charged with assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment.

Former city prosecutor Debbie Hines says testimony in the first trials pointed to Goodson as "the one who was most responsible for seat belting Gray." And the prosecution’s case "revolves primarily around the issue that Freddie Gray should have been seat belted and he was in the van." 

The transport van made several stops as it took Gray from the 1700 block of Presbury Street, where he was arrested, to the Western District station on April 12, 2015. Prosecutors say Gray’s injury occurred between the second stop at Mount and Baker streets - where Gray was placed in leg shackles - and the fourth stop, where Porter responded to a call for a "prisoner check" from Goodson.

That call, according to prosecutors, happened between the third and fourth stop. And Goodson was the only officer at the third stop; North Freemont and Mosher streets.

Hines points to earlier testimony that it was the motion of the van that led to the injuries.

"One of the witnesses," she says, "has already testified that [the likely cause of] the injury that resulted in Freddie Gray’s death was the result of the van either quickly stopping or coming to a quick deceleration."

In other words, a rough ride.

But Hines says you won’t hear that term during the trial because the state is building a case of negligence against Goodson.

"They’re focusing on the fact that the seatbelt and you’re going to hear the description given by the medical examiner as to how she felt that the injury causing death occurred," she says.

Defense attorney Brown says prosecutors have no evidence of a rough ride. If they did, "Goodson probably would have been the only one who was charged."

The 46-year-old Goodson is the oldest of the officers charged. And Brown says he had the cushiest job of the lot. All he had to do was pick up detainees and drop them off at either central booking or at the Western District.

"You’re not actually having to engage in the chase of people down some trash-strewn, rat-contaminated alleys or go up in the homes or apartments or businesses of individuals in some of these combats zones in the city," Brown says. "You just pick the person up and drop them off."

But that "cushy" job put him at the place and time Freddie Gray was arrested. Whether he will be sent to jail for being at that place, will be decided by a jury that will be picked starting Tuesday morning.