The trial of a police van driver, Caesar Goodson that was expected to begin on Monday was put on hold by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, stating that it needed to determine whether Officer William Porter, another Baltimore officer, should be compelled to testify against Goodson, who is charged with second-degree murder for the death of Freddie Gray.
Freddie Gray, a 25-year-old African-American, died on April 19, 2015. His death was ascribed to injuries sustained to his spinal cord. Gray had been arrested on April 12, 2015 by the Baltimore Police Department for allegedly possessing an illegal switchblade. While in transit in the police van, Gray fell into a coma and was rushed to a trauma center where he died one week later. A medical examination found out that Gray had sustained said injuries while being transported in the police van. This led Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City State’s Attorney, to file charges against six police officers involved, on the grounds that Gray died following a “rough ride,” which is a form of police brutality in which a suspect is handcuffed and thrown helplessly around the police vehicle interior by deliberate abrupt police driving.
The officer driving, Goodson was charged with second-degree murder and the five others (including Porter) were charged with crimes ranging from illegal arrest to manslaughter.
The postponement of Goodson’s trial follows an injunction filed in the court of Special Appeals by Porter’s lawyers after Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams had ruled that he (Porter) must testify in Goodson’s trial. Porter’s own trial in December ended in a mistrial, and his case was postponed indefinitely. Porter stated that he would plead his Fifth Amendment right if forced to testify.
“The Fifth Amendment creates a privilege against compelled disclosures that could implicate a witness in criminal activity and thus subject him or her to criminal prosecution,” wrote Porter’s attorneys. They added that if Porter was forced to testify but refused, he risks going to jail for contempt. On the other hand, if he decides to testify, any inconsistent statements on his part could lead to a perjury charge against him. The move to force a defendant to bear witness under immunity at a co-defendant’s trial is unprecedented in Maryland.
Goodson’s trial would offer the public a chance to hear his side of the story. Goodson faces the most serious charge of the six officers, second-degree murder, and faces a maximum of 30 years behind bars. His account remains something of a mystery, as he is the only one of the six police officers charged who has not talked to investigators concerning Gray’s death.
In order to convict Goodson, prosecutors must be able to prove that he was uncaring in his disregard to Gray’s life, and thus deliberately allowed him to die. Prosecutors have not revealed much about the argument they plan to put forward against Goodson, who is also an African-American.
According to Steven Levin, a defense attorney and former prosecutor, the state will find it extremely hard to prove its case against Goodson if Porter does not testify. The prosecution has stated that Porter is the only witness able to testify to critical aspects of Goodson’s alleged role in Gray’s death.