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Another Freddie Gray Officer Opts for Bench Trial

The Baltimore police officer facing the most serious charge stemming from the death of a 25-year-old black man whose neck was broken in the back of a transport wagon waived his right to a jury trial on Monday, instead opting to place his fate in the hands of a judge.

Officer Caesar Goodson, 46, faces second-degree “depraved-heart” murder, manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges stemming from Freddie Gray’s death on April 19, 2015. Gray died a week after he suffered a critical spinal injury in the back of Goodson’s transport wagon.

He is one of six officers charged in Gray’s arrest and death, but the only one who didn’t make a statement to investigators.

Goodson opted to have his case heard by a judge rather than a jury at a motions hearing presided over by Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry Williams.

Opening statements are scheduled to begin Thursday morning.

Prosecutors say Goodson is the most culpable in Gray’s death and that he was grossly negligent when he failed to buckle Gray, who was in handcuffs and leg shackles, into a seat belt, and call an ambulance when he indicated he needed medical aid.

“The Freddie Gray case has gotten a lot of attention and there was a great deal of public outrage in Baltimore as well as across the country, so there is good reason for the defense to fear that a Baltimore jury would be very willing to convict a police officer as being responsible for Freddie Gray’s death,” according to Guyora Binder, a law professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who is familiar with the case. He added that a judge will be less likely than a jury to assume the defendant is guilty simply because of the result: Gray’s death.

Williams ruled Monday on several pretrial motions. He granted a defense bid to prevent Syreeta Teel, an investigator who interviewed another officer charged in the case and took the stand during his trial, from being called as a witness against Goodson.

Teel is one of two departmental investigators who interviewed Officer William Porter, whose first trial ended in a mistrial in December. Before Porter made an official taped statement to Teel, the two spoke on the phone informally. Teel testified that Porter told her Gray said he couldn’t breathe during one of the transport wagon’s stops. In his official statement, Porter made no mention of Gray’s complaint.

An appeals court ruled that the officers in the Gray case can be forced to testify against each other, and Porter could be called as a witness against Goodson, Williams said Monday. But Teel’s statements are only relevant to Porter, Williams said, and agreed with the defense that she should be excluded from the upcoming trial.

Williams sided with the state on most of the remaining motions, denying the defense’s request to dismiss the assault charge, and to suppress portions of the autopsy report.

Gray was arrested April 12 outside of the Gilmor Homes housing complex in West Baltimore. Prosecutors say he was handcuffed and placed inside a transport wagon with Goodson at the wheel. A few blocks away, the wagon stopped and three officers took him out, secured him in leg shackles and slid him back into the wagon’s compartment, head-first and on his belly. He was never strapped into a seat belt. The wagon made three more stops before its final stop at the Western District station house. At that point, Gray was unconscious.

Goodson is the only officer who was present at every wagon stop, and other officers have testified that it was his responsibility to ensure the safety of the prisoner in his custody.

Last month, Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero, who faced misdemeanor charges in the Gray case and also chose a judge trial.