Murder Trial Begins for Freddie Gray’s Driver

     BALTIMORE (CN) — Prosecutors claimed Thursday that Baltimore cop Caesar Goodson Jr. gave Freddie Gray a “rough ride,” causing the 25-year-old’s severe spinal cord injury that led to his death last year.
     In lengthy opening arguments Thursday, Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said Goodson deliberately caused Gray’s death by failing to buckle Gray in the back of the van he was driving and taking a right turn so hard that Gray was thrown around, causing him to break his neck.
     However, Goodson’s defense attorney Andrew Graham disputed the notion that Gray was deliberately bounced around.
     “There was no rough ride. It simply didn’t happen,” Graham said Thursday.
     He also said that officers “virtually never” belted prisoners at the time of incident and that Goodson is such a “slow and cautious” driver that he sometimes lulled his prisoners to sleep.
     Graham said Goodson is “a good officer, a gentle man, a nice guy,” and that he didn’t buckle Gray in because of the “violent and erratic behavior” Gray displayed on the morning of April 12, 2015, a week before his death.
     Testimony in the case against officers William Porter and Edward Nero included statements that Gray was screaming and kicking with such force that the wagon shook. Gray continued to thrash around in the van for several stops, Graham said.
     Porter’s case in December ended with a hung jury and a mistrial was declared. Nero was acquitted on misdemeanor charges in a bench trial last month.
     “He did his job, and he followed instructions,” Graham said. “Freddie Gray’s death was a tragedy, but convicting a good officer just to assign blame would make a tragic situation worse.”
     Graham told the judge that the assistant medical examiner who prepared Gray’s autopsy report and ruled his death a homicide initially told an investigator that it was “a freakish accident” before meeting with prosecutors and changing her mind.
     “It was the result of a pressurized investigation,” Graham said.
     Defense Attorney Warren Brown, who has been following the trials, calls Goodson’s trial the “kingpin” of the state’s case and says prosecutors need a conviction.
     Brown said the state has an “uphill battle” to prove the charges against Goodson to Judge Barry Williams, who is hearing the case instead of a jury.
     The state began with witnesses included Capt. Martin Bartness, chief of staff for police commissioner Kevin Davis, who oversaw the rewriting of police general orders, which directed the seat-belting of prisoners.
     Robert Reynolds, who works with the U.S. Secret Service providing training for first responders dealing with prisoners having medical issues, testified he trained Goodson in a five-day course.
     Officer Dennis Smith, who provided field training for Goodson, said he completed training that included the use of discretion for the seat-belting of combative detainees.
     Gray’s death and funeral culminated in violent protests, which were quelled when the National Guard was called in.
     Goodson’s charge of “depraved-heart” murder is a second-degree felony charge that carries a maximum sentence of 30 years in prison.

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