Freddie Gray trial: expert witness crumbles in van driver's prosecution

Prosecutors rested case after witness testimony from former police commander failed to affirm theory that Caesar Goodson subjected Gray to a ‘rough ride’

Prosecutors seeking murder charges over Freddie Gray’s death rested their case against Caesar Goodson on Wednesday with an expert witness who crumbled under cross-examination. His testimony was the latest of several blows in the trial that experts say is prosecutors’ best shot at getting a conviction for Gray’s death.

After failing to win in the first two trials, the case against Caesar Goodson is especially important for Marilyn Mosby, the embattled state’s attorney.

Goodson was the driver of the van in which Gray was transported, and faces the most serious charge of second-degree depraved heart murder. Gray died of a spinal injury the medical examiner says he sustained in the van, prompting citywide protests.

Witness Stanford O’Neill Franklin, a former police commander, was called to support the prosecution’s theory that Gray suffered what is known as a “rough ride”, a practice in which a driver jolts and takes sharp turns, jostling a prisoner who is handcuffed and shackled without a seatbelt.

But when asked by defense attorney Matthew Fraling whether he saw any evidence of Goodson’s erratic driving, he couldn’t say.

Asked if, in reviewing footage of the van’s stops, he saw evidence of unexpected starts, stops, or turns, Franklin answered: “I did not.”

“It’s not your contention that Officer Goodson in any way engaged in a rough ride?” Fraling asked.

“I can’t say for sure,” Franklin responded.

On redirect, assistant deputy state’s attorney Michael Schatzow did not ask any further questions about the rough ride before resting his case.

Longtime public defender Todd Oppenheim said the prosecution seems to have fallen short of making its case that Goodson took Gray on a rough ride.

“There is a basic threshold that you have to cross and it doesn’t seem like any of that was laid out,” he said of the state’s effort to show Goodson intentionally drove in a manner that would hurt Gray.

In another ruling that could severely undermine the case, Judge Barry Williams ruled that the defense could allow testimony by a detective claiming that the medical examiner initially deemed Gray’s death to be an accident, rather than a homicide as the medical report says.

Williams decided to allow the defense to call Detective Dawnyell Taylor to testify about the medical examiner’s remarks, which would normally be prohibited by rules against hearsay, after ruling that the state had failed to provide the defense with potentially exculpatory evidence.

“The word accident never crossed my lips to anyone other than to say ‘this is not an accident’,” Dr Carol Allan, the assistant medical examiner who wrote Gray’s autopsy, testified last week.

The testimony of Taylor could be essential to the defense in its argument that Gray’s death was “a freakish accident” and that “Dr Allan’s report deserves no weight” given that it “quickly changed from accident to homicide under pressure”.

It is unknown whether the defense will actually call Taylor.

The judge cast this decision as a remedy for what was another blow. On the first day of the trial, Judge Williams found that prosecutors had failed to disclose evidence that could have been crucial to the defense.

He chided prosecutors for their failure to disclose a witness interview that he deemed clearly exculpatory. “If your office doesn’t get that, I don’t know where we are at this point,” Williams told the lawyers in a sharp exchange.

Mosby, one of the youngest chief prosecutors in the country, was hailed as a hero by activists and reviled by police supporters last May when she announced charges against the officers on the steps of the War Memorial downtown. Now, five of the six officers charged for Gray’s death have filed lawsuits against Mosby for defamation, invasion of privacy and other charges, while activists regularly protest outside her office and challenge her at public appearances for a perceived lack of transparency. Activists are especially outraged over the case of Keith Davis, who was shot by police and later charged with murder, because of a perceived failure to disclose evidence to the defense.

“It is truly disappointing to see the reckless disregard the state’s attorney’s office has for the rule of law and the rights of the accused,” Latoya Francis-Williams, Davis’s attorney said, linking what she says is Mosby’s failure to disclose potentially exculpatory information in his case and that against Goodson.

The defense will begin its case on Thursday, but Judge Williams said that the defense expects to be able to offer a “truncated” case.


Baynard Woods in Baltimore

The GuardianTramp

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