Officer Caesar Goodson Jr., the third of six Baltimore City police officers to stand trial for their alleged role in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray, was found not guilty of second-degree murder today by Judge Barry Williams.
Goodson, who drove the police van carrying 25-year-old Gray, faced up to 30 years in prison if he was convicted of the most serious charge, second-degree depraved-heart murder. He chose to leave his fate up to a judge instead of a jury.
The verdict comes three days after arguments wrapped up in the case. Judge Williams was tasked with deciding when, over the course of the ride, Gray sustained the fatal injury that led to his death, as well as whether that injury was a result of actions taken, or not taken, by Goodson.
Goodson was also found not guilty of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office. He had pleaded not guilty on all counts.
Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake issued a statement on the judge’s decision today, asking residents to remain patient in the process and to respect the ruling.
“Now that the criminal case has come to an end, Officer Goodson will face an administrative review by the Police Department. We once again ask the citizens to be patient and to allow the entire process to come to a conclusion,” Rawlings-Blake said. “I am proud that we as a community have come together to move our city forward over the past year. I know that the citizens of Baltimore will continue to respect the judicial process and the ruling of the court.”
— Mayor Rawlings-Blake (@MayorSRB) June 23, 2016
Prosecutors had to prove that Goodson acted with such wanton and reckless disregard for human life that it amounted to malice. During closing remarks Monday, Judge Williams seemed confused by the state’s argument that the wide right turn was a “rough ride,” asking, “Can we not agree that taking a turn wide is less dangerous?”
A “rough ride” is police lingo for teaching someone a lesson by putting him in a police wagon without a seatbelt and driving so erratically that he is thrown around, according to The Associated Press.
Williams also questioned prosecutors as to why Goodson stopped to check on Gray if it was his intent to give him a “rough ride.” Surveillance footage obtained from CCTV at the time of the ride shows Goodson stopping the van following the wide right turn, walking to the back, looking in, returning to the front, and getting back behind the wheel before calling dispatch for backup.
Gray died following a severe neck and spinal cord injury. During the trial. the defense argued that the neck and spinal cord injury occurred simultaneously in a “catastrophic” moment before arriving at the police station. The prosecution argued that the neck injury resulted from the alleged “rough ride” and progressively worsened through the remaining stops, and that the officers neglected to get Gray medical care, which led to his death.
Williams also presided in the previous cases of Officers William Porter and Edward Nero. Porter’s trial ended with a hung jury in December and he will be retried in September. Nero, who also opted for a bench trial by Williams, was acquitted last month.