BALTIMORE, Md. — Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson, who drove the van in which Freddie Gray was fatally injured, was found not guilty Thursday on all charges, including the most serious charge of second-degree depraved-heart murder.
Wearing a dark suit and blue shirt, Goodson stood motionless as the verdict was read. There were tears in his family members’ eyes. Baltimore officer Edward Nero, who was also acquitted of charges by the same judge in May, clasped his hands and said, “Yes!”
A smattering of protestors carried signs outside the courthouse before the verdict.
The prosecution argued that Goodson was one of the worst protagonists in Gray’s death.
Gray, who was 25, suffered a devastating spinal injury and died in April 2015, about a week after he was arrested and placed into a prisoner van that Goodson was driving.
Of the six officers arrested in the case, Goodson faced the most serious charges. The second-degree depraved heart murder is a charge unique to a few states that implies that the defendant acts with extreme indifference with regard to the human consequences and perils of their actions.
The verdict is another setback for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who dramatically announced the charges against the six officer last year from the broad steps of the downtown War Memorial.
The ‘rough ride’
Prosecutors alleged that after Gray was arrested on a weapons charge, Goodson took him on a “rough ride” in a prisoner van — a punitive measure police used against unruly subjects.
They said Goodson drove so radically that he blew through a stop sign and veered into another lane of traffic because of the speed he was traveling, which prosecutors said would have tossed Gray around in the van. This is the point in the ride that prosecutors think Gray sustained his fatal spinal injury.
The prosecution argued that Goodson failed on two accounts: failing to put a seat belt on Gray when he was in the back of the van and neglecting to provide Gray with proper medical assistance after Gray indicated that he wanted to go to the hospital.
Goodson was also charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office, involuntary manslaughter, manslaughter by vehicles (gross negligence), manslaughter by vehicle (criminal negligence) and reckless endangerment.
Defense attorneys for Goodson argued that there is no evidence of that rough ride and that Gray’s injuries were caused in part by his own agitation and thrashing around in the van.
They said Gray was combative and uncooperative and that Goodson used his judgment to not put a seat belt on Gray because he felt it wasn’t safe.
“We certainly don’t want to speak poorly about the deceased, but Mr. Gray created the high-degree of risk,” defense attorney Matthew Fraling said during the bench trial.
The defense added that, although he asked to go to the hospital, Gray never showed symptoms that would have called for immediate medical attention, such as bleeding, bruising or broken limbs.
Over the seven-day testimony, the state called 21 witnesses; the defense called on nine. Goodson didn’t testify.