There have been more twists and turns in the Baltimore police officers’ cases involving the death of Freddie Gray that anyone can count. The first two trials ended without a conviction. And today, more unlikeable twists and turns occurred in a Baltimore court room in the case of Caesar Goodson, the van driver. Goodson has been viewed by most persons, including some of his fellow officers as the most culpable one likely responsible for Gray’s death. The Baltimore City State’s Attorney office charged Goodson with the most serious crime of second degree murder-depraved heart along with manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.
Goodson’s trial started today with pre-trial motions where he elected a bench trial before Judge Barry Williams, to the surprise of many legal analysts, including myself. A defense motion was also granted that precludes the state from introducing the April 15, 2015 statement of William Porter. Porter allegedly told investigating Officer Teel that Freddie Gray stated he could not breath.
The latest twists and developments highlight one other reason why the cases are extremely difficult for the state to prove. In Officer William Porter’s trial, the now precluded statement he gave to Officer Teel about Freddie Gray’s statement was admissible in Porter’s trial. Porter was the defendant and a statement made by the defendant is generally admissible, unless excluded for legal reasons. In Goodson’s trial, Porter is not on trial. And the issue becomes whether hearsay allows the statement of what Gray said to be admissible. Simply put, Judge Williams ruled the statement is not admissible as hearsay in Goodson’s case. Other reasons for its inadmissibility is whether the state believes the truth of the statement as it was not reduced to writing and signed by Porter. What this means is the state is left without its most serious piece of evidence showing that at the fourth van stop that Freddie Gray stated he could not breathe.
Goodson, elected for a bench trial, according to those in the court room at the beginning of today’s proceedings before any rulings were made. But the likely exclusion of Porter’s April 15, 2015 statement may be one of the reasons why Goodson chose to opt for a trial before Judge Williams in lieu of a jury trial. The decision to take a bench trial is an unlikely decision. Without second guessing the defense team, it is not a decision that I would make as a defense attorney. While I doubt if Goodson would have been convicted of second degree murder in any case, he still faces serious charges of manslaughter and reckless endangerment. Unlike most cases, the defense has now had the opportunity to assess the previous witness testimony and evidence in two other police officer cases in making its decision. However with these charges hanging over Goodson’s head, a bench trial is a dicey decision. The defense team must have felt that they would get a fairer trial with Judge Williams.
One thing is certain in the trial of Caesar Goodson. Extreme pressure is now on the prosecutors to obtain a conviction in Goodson’s case. If Goodson is found not guilty of all counts based on legal grounds, it is highly likely that the state will be unable to obtain convictions in any of the Baltimore police officer cases charged in the death of Freddie Gray.
The trial starts on June 9 at 9:30 am. I plan on being in the court room for the latest and newest twists and turns as the world turns in the Baltimore police officer cases.
UPDATE: The article added that Goodson’s decision to take a bench trial occurred before any rulings on motions.
Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer, legal analyst and former Baltimore prosecutor. She is seen on Al Jazeera, BET, CBS News, PBS, MSNBC and NPR, among others. Her Op Ed articles appear in the Baltimore Sun, Washington Post and the Huffington Post.
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