Prosecutors suffer setback in Baltimore police murder trial

AP News
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Posted: Jun 15, 2016 6:25 PM

BALTIMORE (AP) — Prosecutors suffered a setback Wednesday with a judge's ruling on evidence in the trial of a Baltimore police officer accused of murder in the death of a prisoner whose neck was broken in a police transport van.

They also watched one of their witnesses undergo a rigorous cross-examination challenging a key prosecution theory in the case against officer Caesar Goodson. He's on trial for murder and other offenses in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray

Judge Barry Williams ruled that a detective may be called by the defense to testify that an assistant medical examiner at one point considered Gray's death might have been an accident.

Williams declared Detective Dawnyell Taylor's notes admissible after meeting with attorneys for more than 30 minutes on the fifth day of Goodson's trial.

Taylor has notes about discussions with Dr. Carol Allan, the assistant medical examiner who prepared Freddie Gray's autopsy report. Allan has testified that she had an open mind about Gray's cause of death, but after reading the medical records and performing the autopsy, she determined it was a homicide, not an accident. Taylor's notes may suggest that at one point, Gray's death was discussed as a possible accident.

Williams said prosecutors didn't turn over the material about Taylor's notes to the defense in a timely manner, and violated discovery rules.

Prosecutors rested their case Wednesday after calling to the stand Stanford O'Neill Franklin, an expert on police training and practices. Prosecutors were using him to build their case that Gray was given a "rough ride" in the van when he was left unrestrained by a seatbelt but handcuffed and shackled in the back of the wagon. Prosecutors also say Goodson was negligent when he failed to call for medical help.

Franklin, a former commander of education and training for the Baltimore Police Department, said Goodson missed opportunities to put Gray in a seat belt in the back of the van during several tops, instead of leaving him shackled on the floor.

But under defense cross-examination, Franklin said officers have discretion "in extreme circumstances" and that regulations didn't allow Goodson to enter the back of the van when he was the only officer there. Goodson's attorneys say he didn't give Gray a rough ride, and did nothing wrong.

Warren Alperstein, a Baltimore attorney who is uninvolved in the case but has observed nearly all the legal proceedings, said later that prosecutors had a tough afternoon.

"I think the defense scored a number of significant points as it discredited Mr. Franklin," Alperstein said, adding that Franklin admitted under cross examination that if the prisoner wasn't exhibiting signs of needed emergency medical help, Goodson wouldn't have been required to take him to a hospital.

Earlier in the day, Baltimore paramedic Angelique Herbert testified about seeing Gray at the police station where he was taken on the day of his arrest in April 2015. Herbert testified that Gray didn't appear to be breathing.

She recalled that as officers were standing around the van, "I said 'What the F did you guys do?'"

Herbert also testified about efforts to resuscitate Gray. She said his eyes were open, but he wasn't blinking or responding. She also described touching Gray's neck.

"It wasn't in line, and it felt crumbly, like a bag of rocks," Herbert said.

She also said she believed at the time Gray may have had a skull fracture.

She discussed a stick-figure drawing she made of the scene, showing where officers were standing by the van and identifying them by skin color. She noted one officer said he wasn't sure what happened, but that Gray may have been banging his head in the van.

Herbert also noted she saw blood on Gray's upper lip. Gray died about a week after his arrest. The black prisoner's death sparked days of civil unrest in Baltimore.

Goodson, who is black, faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges.

The defense is expected to ask the judge Thursday to dismiss the case, a standard procedure after prosecutors rest. If the judge refuses, the defense will move forward.