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Expert Witness in Freddie Gray Trial Falls Apart Under Cross-Examination

Expert Witness in Freddie Gray Trial Falls Apart Under Cross-Examination

The prosecutors who sought murder charges for the death of Freddie Gray concluded their case against Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. with an expert witness who fell apart under cross-examination.

The Prosecution’s Case

Goodson, 46, faces the charge of second-degree depraved heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, second-degree assault, reckless endangerment, and misconduct in office for the death of Freddie Gray. Gray, a 25-year old black man, died of a spinal injury that was determined to have happened while being transported in a police van on April 12, 2015. Goodson was the driver of the van.

The prosecution argues that Gray suffered from a “rough ride,” where a driver takes sharp turns and jolts to jostle a prisoner who is handcuffed without a seatbelt. They allege that Goodson failed to secure Gray with a seat belt and intentionally drove him around in a reckless manner. The prosecution also argues that Gray was hurt early in the van’s journey and that the officers failed to get him the necessary medical help.

Expert Testimony Falls Apart

The state called 21 witnesses to support its case. Its final witness was Stanford O’Neill Franklin, a former police commander who once oversaw police training for the Baltimore Police Department. Franklin was called to support the prosecution’s theory that Gray had suffered a rough ride. He testified that, “[i]t’s extremely important that the ride be as smooth as possible to prevent the person in the back from being propelled around the inside “… and that if prisoners were unsecured and shackled, they would have no way to prevent themselves from becoming projectiles.

However, Franklin’s testimony fell apart during cross-examination. Under questioning by defense attorney Matthew Frailing, Franklin was unable to point to any evidence that Goodson drove erratically. When Frailing asked the direct question, “It’s not your contention that Officer Goodson in any way engaged in a rough ride?” Franklin responded, “I can’t say for sure.” Franklin also testified that a seat belt would not have necessarily ensured that Gray was secured in the van.

Franklin’s testimony was the finale of a series of witnesses that failed to effectively support the state’s case. Another state witness, Detective Michael Boyd, testified under cross-examination that the videos did not show the van taking an abrupt path. Additionally, Donta Allen, who was also in the van with Gray, told investigators that he experienced a “smooth ride.”

Trial Moves Forward Despite Weak Case

Following the state’s five-day presentation of its case, defense filed a motion for acquittal, arguing there is not enough for the case to move forward. The presiding judge, Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams, denied that motion, but expressed concern about the merits of the murder charge.

Two defense attorneys who are not involved in the case, but have observed the proceedings, have said that the state has put on a “weak case.”

Goodson is the third officer to go to trial in this matter. Officer Porter stood trial in December, but the jury failed to reach a verdict. He is scheduled to be retried in September. Officer Nero was acquitted on all counts.

Photo Credit: Minneapolis rally and march to support the people of Baltimore, by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Dueling Experts Contribute to Mistrial in Case Against Baltimore Officer who Arrested Freddie Gray

A Baltimore area judge has declared a mistrial against the first police officer to face prosecution for the death of Freddie Gray after jurors could not reach a verdict after more than 16 hours of deliberations.  While many factors can contribute to juror deadlock, the emotionally charged case featured several conflicting expert witness statements, none of which was convincing enough to sway the entire jury towards conviction.

First Officer Trial in Freddie Gray Case Ends with Mistrial

Baltimore police officer William G. Porter was the first of six officers charged with the death of Freddie Gray, a suspect who died in police custody in April of this year.  Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal neck injury while shackled in a Baltimore PD van, earned the national spotlight when protests over his death turned to riots by angry citizens of predominantly black Baltimore neighborhoods who expressed frustration about law enforcement brutality against African American citizens.  Porter, who is also black, denied racially motivated treatment of Gray and maintained that he and his fellow officers were unaware of the seriousness of the 25-year-old injuries at the time of his death.

During the trial, prosecutors called medical expert witnesses in an effort to convince jurors that Officer Porter – along with his colleagues – acted inappropriately by failing to properly secure Gray in the back of the police van, and, more importantly, failing to call for medical help when the victim’s injuries became apparent.  Attorneys for William Porter called counter-experts in police training and medical fields to dispute the prosecution’s position and argue the defendant was not responsible for the tragic accident which took Gray’s life.

Prosecution in Freddie Gray Case Calls Expert Witnesses

During the prosecution’s case against Baltimore officer William Porter attorneys for the state argued the six police officials had an opportunity to prevent Freddie Gray’s death by taking better precautions and by responding to Gray’s injuries in a timely manner, but failed on both accounts.  Neither side contests the fact that the van Gray was placed in upon his arrest made a total of 6 stops before officers requested medical attention Gray’s injuries, but what is contested is where along those 6 stops the victim suffered the fatal injury.  Prosecutors argue Gray suffered the injury early in the trip – sometime after the second stop – which would give police officers ample time to respond to his injuries.

To support their case prosecutors called Dr. Carol Allan, the medical examiner who performed Gray’s autopsy, as a forensic expert witness.  Dr. Allan told jurors that her expert analysis of the case concluded Gray was injured sometime between the 2nd and the 4th stop of the van, and believes that the police acted with criminal negligence by failing to recognize the severity of the situation after the 4th stop.  According to Dr. Allan had Gray received prompt medical attention after the 4th stop then he may not have died in the police van, suggesting Porter and his fellow officers failed in their opportunity to request timely medical attention.

Dr. Allan’s testimony was buttressed by Illinois neurosurgeon and medical expert witness Dr. Morris Marc Soriano who told the court that immediate medical attention could have saved Freddie Gray’s life.  A final medical expert for prosecutors was paramedic Angelique Herbert who responded to the scene after Porter and his fellow officers finally called for medical attention.  According to Herbert, by the time she arrived at the scene Freddie Gray was already beyond saving.  Defense attorneys responded to the testimony by prosecution experts with police tactic and forensic expert witnesses who told the court there was nothing Officer Porter could have, or should have, done differently during Gray’s arrest and detention.

Defense Attorneys in Freddie Gray Officer Trial Use Expert Testimony

Early in the defense’s case, attorneys for William Porter called Timothy Longo, a police chief in Charlottesville, Virginia with more than 35-years of experience as an officer, as a police tactics expert witness.  According to Longo, Officer Porter exercised reasonable discretion and good judgment considering the circumstances by detaining a resistant suspect and by informing the van’s driver of the need for medical attention at an appropriate time.  Longo addressed allegations that Porter should have buckled Gray in by saying the arresting officers are required to use circumstance and discretion when faced with orders issued by Baltimore PD requiring detainees be buckled because those rules “don’t create a higher standard in criminal or civil proceedings.  They’re clearly administrative in purpose.”

Longo also told jurors that Officer Porter could have gotten on the radio sooner to request medical attention, but ultimately was acting under the authority of his fellow officer Caesar Goodson who was driving the van and in charge of the operation.  Defense attorneys also called neurosurgeon Dr. Matthew Ammerman as a medical expert witness to tell jurors there is nothing Porter could have done had he called for medical attention right away.  According to Dr. Ammerman’s forensic testimony, Gray’s neck injury was catastrophic and immediately paralyzed his ability to breathe, speak, and move.  Dr. Ammerman said this injury must have occurred after the fourth stop because Gray could still communicate at that time.

Jurors were unable to reach a verdict against Officer Porter after more than 16 hours of deliberations.  The State has an opportunity to retry the officer, but has not announced a decision at this time.  All of the other officers, including Caesar Goodson, will face criminal prosecution in the near future for their role.