- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 5, 2016

The trial of the Baltimore Police officer facing the most serious charges in last year’s arrest and death of Freddie Gray is set to begin this week, with city prosecutors having registered no convictions in the trials of two other officers.

A failure to convict Officer Caesar Goodson could prove catastrophic not only for the prosecution but also for Baltimore, which saw days of protest and rioting after Gray’s death in April 2015, court observers said.

“It would be devastating for the state to lose Goodson’s trial because there’s no question that the ultimate responsibility lies with the van driver,” said Warren Alperstein, a former prosecutor who has been closely following the case.

Officer Goodson was the driver of the police van in which Gray, a 25-year-old black man, broke his neck during a 45-minute ride to the Western District booking station. Gray had been handcuffed and shackled but not secured in a seat belt, per official directives. He died a week after being injured.

Officer Goodson is charged with second-degree “depraved heart” murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault and misconduct in office. He faces up to 30 years in prison for the murder charge alone.

A total of six officers were charged in connection to Gray’s arrest and death, and prosecutors are trying to mount a comeback after having failed to achieve convictions in the first two trials.

The trial of Officer William Porter ended with a hung jury in December. Charged with reckless endangerment, manslaughter, assault and misconduct in office, he is to be retried in September.

Last month, a Baltimore judge acquitted Officer Edward Nero of all charges. Prosecutors had accused him of reckless endangerment, assault and misconduct in office, but Circuit Judge Barry Williams pointedly asked them during closing arguments why they had brought charges against Officer Nero. The prosecutors since have weathered sharp criticism and been accused of rushing to charge the officers amid heated protests and calls for reform.

Officer Nero opted for his trial to be decided by a judge, not a jury. It was not known if Officer Goodson also could seek a bench trial when Judge Williams hears pretrial motions on Monday. Jury selection is expected to begin Tuesday.

Officer Goodson’s trial could feature the compelled testimony of Officer Porter. Prosecutors had argued fiercely to force some of the accused officers to testify against the others because they possess vital information that cannot be acquired by any other means. The Maryland Court of Appeals ruled earlier this year that the officers could be compelled to testify with limited immunity and safeguards against self-incrimination.

However, the compelled testimony in Officer Nero’s trial backfired on prosecutors. Officer Garrett Miller, who also is accused in the Gray case, testified that Officer Nero did not arrest the young man and barely had any physical contact with him, undercutting the prosecution’s arguments. At the time, Mr. Alperstein said the prosecutors were disadvantaged because they hadn’t been able to interview Officer Miller before he testified.

Nonetheless, prosecutors are expected to call on Officer Porter, who is expected to testify about what Officer Goodson did and said during the van ride that mortally injured Gray. In his own trial in December, Officer Porter testified that he told Officer Goodson to take Gray to a hospital during one of the six stops the van made on its way to the station. Instead, Officer Goodson stopped to pick up another prisoner.

Prosecutors argue that it was Officer Goodson’s responsibility to ensure that Gray was buckled in and to seek medical attention for his injuries.

But Officer Goodson’s defense is hoping Judge Williams will disallow Officer Porter’s statement as well as some parts of Gray’s autopsy, according to pretrial motions the judge is set to rule on Monday.

The defense claims that a statement Officer Porter made to Detective Syreeta Teel in an April 15, 2015, telephone call in which he said Gray told him he couldn’t breathe should be inadmissible as hearsay. Officer Porter denied making the statement to the detective during his trial.

The defense also is asking that part of assistant medical examiner Dr. Carol Allan’s autopsy of Gray be excluded because it referred to out-of-court statements from other individuals. Officer Goodson’s lawyers claim those statements are hearsay.

The prosecution argues that it has every right to allow expert witnesses to testify about how they reached their opinions.

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