Trial begins for officer facing most serious charges in Freddie Gray case

Baltimore Police officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 46, the third officer to face trial for Freddie Gray's death in a police van, arrives at the courthouse. File photo. © Jose Luis Magana
Caesar Goodson, the Baltimore police officer who drove the van that Freddie Gray was held in before his death, has begun his trial. Being charged with murder, he faces the most serious counts of all the officers involved.

Thursday’s trial kicked off Baltimore prosecutors’ attempt to convict Goodson of charges including second-degree depraved-heart murder, manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of vehicular manslaughter, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office for his role in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray in April 2015.

Goodson, 46, was driving the transport van that held Gray after his arrest, where he sustained spinal injuries that led to his death in the hospital a week later.

Before the trial began, Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Williams held a hearing to consider whether prosecutors wrongfully withheld information about their meeting with a second man who was in the police van. Prosecutors admitted to meeting the man, but said that he didn’t produce new information and they don’t plan to call him as a witness.

Judge Williams did not dismiss the charges against Goodson over this, as the defense asked, but scolded the prosecution for their behavior.

“My concern is what else didn’t your office turn over,” Williams said.

Goodson elected to have a bench trial rather, meaning that the judge, rather than a jury, will determine his guilt or innocence.

That the determination will hinge on whether Goodson is liable for Gray’s death because he chose not to properly secure Gray in the van – the responsibility of police transport drivers – and did not render him medical aid when he needed it.

Goodson, who is black, faces up to 30 years in prison if convicted on the charge of depraved-heart murder

Two of the six officers charged with in the death of Freddie Gray have already gone to court.

Officer William Porter was the first to go to trial, which ended inconclusively with a hung jury in December.

Officer Edward Nero had, like Goodson, a bench trial that was presided over by Judge Williams. He was found not guilty of all the charges that he faced.

An important point made by the defense and witnesses during both of these trials was the van driver bears ultimate responsibility for the safety of the detainee.

While this may make it more likely that Goodson is convicted than the other officers, data compiled by NBC News found that police officers are statistically unlikely to be convicted at bench trials. Between 2005 and 2011, only one officer was convicted in a bench trial of murder or manslaughter in the line of duty.