BALTIMORE – Now that prosecutors have rested their case, attorneys for a Baltimore police officer on trial for murder in the death of a black prisoner whose neck was broken in a police transport van are set to push hard for acquittal.
The defense is boosted by a legal setback for the prosecution and tough cross examination of a key witness who is important to proving Freddie Gray was mortally injured after he was given a "rough ride."
Attorneys for Officer Caesar Goodson, the driver of the van, are expected to ask Judge Barry Williams on Thursday morning to acquit their client on the sixth day of the trial.
Their arguments will come a day after the judge ruled prosecutors violated discovery rules when they did not turn over to the defense notes from a detective that indicate an assistant medical examiner at one point considered that the death of the 25-year-old man might have been an accident. That could contradict earlier testimony from Dr. Carol Allen, who determined Gray's death was a homicide and not an accident.
The discovery violation comes after Williams asked prosecutors to review their files for evidence they had not disclosed to the defense — after the judge had found prosecutors violated discovery rules about information concerning a witness in another case.
"It's never a good thing when a judge finds the state has committed a discovery violation," said Warren Alperstein, a Baltimore attorney who is uninvolved in the case but has observed nearly all the legal proceedings. "It's certainly not good when there are repeated discovery violations, and what's so significant is that these are discovery violations that are so egregious because there's an absolute affirmative obligation for the prosecution to turn over any evidence that is favorable to a defendant."
Prosecutors, who are looking for their first conviction after their first case against another officer ended in a hung jury and their second case resulted in the judge's acquittal of another, announced in this case they would prove Gray died a week after being given a rough ride. That's police lingo for putting a prisoner in a police wagon without a seat belt and driving so erratically that he or she is thrown around. But Stanford O'Neill Franklin, an expert witness on police training and practices, underwent a tough cross examination on that theory in court Wednesday.
Although Franklin said police missed opportunities at several stops to put Gray in a seat belt in the back of the van instead of leaving him shackled on the floor, he didn't testify that video surveillance showed evidence of a rough ride.
Goodson, 46, who is black, faces second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault and other charges. Prosecutors had hinted earlier that Gray was subjected to a rough ride. But their opening statements last week in this case marked the first time they accused the driver of intending to hurt Gray, whose death in April 2015 touched off the worst riots in Baltimore in decades.