Three strong witnesses for the prosecution during the trial of Baltimore Police Officer Caesar Goodson Jr. this week painted a distinct picture of the circumstances around Freddie Gray’s April 2015 death. They said that Gray was noncombative, that he couldn’t have injured himself and that his preventable death was a homicide.
Goodson, 46, was the wagon driver who transported Gray. He is the only officer who did not give a statement to police investigators after Gray's death—which, combined with the fact that he is not testifying in his defense, could make him look guilty, according to University of Baltimore law professor David Jaros. Goodson also faces the most serious charges, including depraved-heart murder and involuntary manslaughter.
Goodson was also not helped by the testimony of Officer William Porter. Although the two exchanged handshakes during the trial, Porter was compelled to testify as a witness for the state against Goodson, and his testimony was potentially damning.
Porter, who faces his own retrial in September after his first trial over Gray’s death ended in a mistrial, helped the prosecution by admitting that Gray was not a combative detainee, referring to him as "docile" and "lethargic." During opening statements, the defense argued that it was not safe to fasten Gray's seat belt because he was being disruptive.
Chief Deputy State's Attorney Michael Schatzow asked Porter if he had the opportunity to secure Gray in a seat belt.
Porter answered reluctantly: "I guess so."
Porter said that he didn't call a medic when Gray told him that he needed to go to a hospital. Porter testified that Gray was speaking normally and didn't show any outward signs of a serious injury.
"You told Goodson that Gray said he would like to go to the hospital?" the prosecutor asked. "Did Goodson agree with you that he needed to go?"
"I don't recall," answered Porter.
The prosecution reminded Porter of a statement he made to police in which he said, "We should take him to the hospital because he's not going to pass booking."
"Did Goodson agree with that?" Shatzow asked.
"Sure," Porter answered.
Porter said that if you take someone to booking who says he or she wants to go to the hospital, that person is automatically rejected.
By stop 5 during Gray’s transport, prosecutors said, Porter referred to Gray in his police statement as being "limp."
"Other officers were present at stop 5," the prosecutor said to Porter. "Did anyone attempt to seat-belt him?"
"No," answered Porter.
"Did you call for a medic at stop 5?"
"I did not," answered Porter.
"Did anyone call for a medic?"
"Nero or Miller called one for someone with a broken arm," answered Porter.
An expert witness for the prosecution, neurosurgeon Dr. Morris Marc Soriano, testified that Gray's injuries could have allowed him to communicate with officers at later stops and to keep breathing.
Soriano also testified that the injury Gray sustained could not have occurred because someone who was standing then fell back and hit his head, and that it couldn't have happened from him banging his head, a point that the defense has argued: that Gray caused his own injuries by banging his head.
Porter appeared to not remember details of incidents when answering for the prosecution, but readily answered questions from the defense. Prosecutors played clips to show that Porter's statements had changed since his original statements; they also had to constantly refer him to transcripts to refresh his memory on previous statements he made.
"Porter's testimony helped both the defense and the prosecution. It helps the prosecution because Goodson didn't do anything that would have safeguarded Freddie's condition while in the van," said University of Maryland law professor Doug Colbert. "And he didn't take Freddie Gray to the hospital.
“He also helped the defense,” Colbert continued, “when he testified that Freddie didn't have an apparent need of hospitalization despite asking for it. If the judge believes that's credible, then the defense would be able to find a reasonable doubt."
There are two key points from Porter's testimony that may help the defense. Porter said that Gray did not show outward signs that he needed medical attention and was speaking in a normal voice. Porter also testified that after the fourth stop—a stop that two witnesses, the medical examiner and an expert neurologist, have said is the stop when Gray was seriously injured—Gray used his legs as Porter helped him onto the bench. The prosecution pointed out that last year, during his statement to the police, he did not mention that Gray assisted him on getting himself onto the bench. Porter answered that he wasn't asked then.
Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant medical examiner who performed Gray's autopsy, stood by her conclusion that Gray's death was a homicide and that his serious injuries that eventually proved fatal happened between the second and fourth stops.
Under cross-examination, both Allan and Soriano said that they couldn't pinpoint with 100 percent accuracy the exact time of the injury. Their findings are based on witness testimony, police testimony, medical records, autopsy and other records, but no direct eyewitnesses.
The point at which the injury occurred is a crucial point for the defense. If it occurred between the fifth and sixth stops, there would have been little that could have been done to save Gray's life.
But Soriano testified that even if Gray had been secured in a seat belt at the fifth stop, there could have been a different outcome.
"If he had been seat-belted, his life could have been saved even after sustaining the injuries," Soriano testified.