In a Baltimore courtroom during opening statements, prosecutors used the phrase “rough ride” to describe the phenomenon that led to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody.
Officer Caesar R. Goodson, Jr. is one of six officers to stand trial a year after Gray, 25, of Baltimore died while riding in the back of a police transport van following an arrest for fleeing police officers. Goodson, the van’s driver, is charged with second-degree depraved-heart murder with carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.
Prosecutors allege that Goodson drove the van recklessly with Gray shackled, but not seat-belted in the back. His alleged recklessness is said to include running a stop sign, driving at excessive speeds and making abrupt, severe turns with the intent, as one prosecutor put it, to “bounce him [Gray] around.”
After Gray had sustained a severe head injury (one that eventually caused his death), Goodson made a number of stops rather than seeking medical attention for the prisoner. Expert medical witnesses for the prosecution are expected to testify that immediate medical attention would have saved Freddie Gray’s life.
Though Goodson is the third of six officers to be charged in this case, his defense is strengthened by the outcomes of the two previous trials. One was dismissed for lack of evidence, and the other resulted in an acquittal. But in a bizarre turn of events, Goodson requested a “bench trial.” He waived his right to a trial by jury and placed his fate squarely in the judge’s hands.
The presiding judge is the one who acquitted the second officer in the case, just two weeks prior to Goodson’s trial. As for “bench trials,” courts will allow a defendant to waive a trial by jury and have the case decided by a judge as long as the prosecution gives its consent.
From a prosecutor’s perspective, a jury trial means that he or she must prove the evidence to 12 people and the judge. On the other hand, should a case be emotionally charged by media or other outside influence, a defendant may be better off taking the decision out of the hands of a dozen private citizens who may be unable to separate emotion from the facts and evidence presented.
The Freddie Gray case is certainly “emotionally charged.”
In April 30, 2015 (the same month the incident took place), 22 individual demonstrations had been held nationwide in direct response to Gray’s death. On April 25, two Baltimore PD patrol cars were damaged and 15 police officers were injured.
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