BALTIMORE — The defense rested Friday morning in the trial of Caesar Goodson Jr., with the officer, charged in Freddie Gray’s death, declining to take the stand.
Closing arguments in Goodson’s trial are set to begin Monday morning in Baltimore City Circuit Court.
The last defense witness was Goodson’s colleague, Edward M. Nero, who was also charged in the case but was acquitted of all counts after a bench trial in May.
Nero, one of the officers who helped load Gray into the back of a police wagon the morning of his arrest, testified that officers had trouble putting him in the wagon.
“He was not being very cooperative,” Nero testified. “He was being very passive-aggressive” and started to “bang, yell and scream” inside the wagon.
Nero’s testimony underscored a point Goodson’s attorneys have attempted to make over seven days of trial: Goodson’s decision to not enter the narrow van compartment to seat-belt Gray was reasonable because Gray was being combative.
Goodson drove the police wagon that transported Gray through West Baltimore on April 12, 2015, the day the 25-year-old suffered a severe neck injury in police custody after his arrest.
Prosecutors have argued that the officer gave Gray a “rough ride,” driving recklessly as Gray, wearing shackles but no seat belt, bounced around in the rear of the vehicle. They contend that as the van driver, Goodson was responsible for Gray’s safety. Prosecutors allege that Goodson became culpable for his death by failing to buckle Gray into the wagon and ignoring his requests to go to a hospital.
Goodson, 46, faces the lone murder charge arising from Gray’s death. In addition to second-degree depraved-heart murder, Goodson has been charged with manslaughter, reckless endangerment, assault and misconduct in office. He is among six officers who were charged in Gray’s arrest and death, which sparked protests and unrest throughout the city.
Goodson is the third officer to go to trial, after Officer William G. Porter and Nero. Porter is set for retrial in September after a jury failed to reach a verdict in December.
Nero was on the witness stand for 15 minutes Friday. As one of the officers who guarded the wagon as a crowd assembled during Gray's arrest, he testified that Gray continued to “scream and yell” and “make a scene.”
“It started to become a hostile environment,” Nero said.
Nero was the second officer charged in the case to testify in Goodson’s trial. Earlier in the week, Porter was called as a prosecution witness, testifying that Goodson had custody of Gray and was therefore responsible for his safety.
An appeals court forced Porter to testify under a grant of limited immunity from prosecutors despite awaiting retrial in the case.
Nero’s appearance on the witness stand Friday came after the judge struck the testimony of a Baltimore police detective. The detective taught traffic safety in the department and said her lesson plan did not include teaching officers about buckling prisoners into the back of police wagons. Judge Barry G. Williams eliminated her testimony because she could not remember whether she instructed Goodson.
The judge also on Friday rejected a defense request to admit the closing arguments prosecutors made in Nero’s trial as part of Goodson’s case. In Nero’s trial, Chief Deputy State’s Attorney Michael Schatzow said the officer was responsible for putting Gray in a seat belt because custody of Gray never transferred to Goodson. But in Goodson’s case, prosecutors have been arguing that the van driver has custody for all prisoners traveling in the wagon.
Williams said it would be inappropriate to include Schatzow’s remarks from Nero’s case because the closing arguments were more of a conversation with the judge and attorneys, instead of a formal appeal to a 12-member jury.
Unlike Porter, who testified in his own trial, Goodson did not take the witness stand in his defense. Standing before the judge in a dark suit Friday, Goodson gave short, affirmative responses as the judge advised him of his right to decline testifying.
Goodson, like Nero, has selected a bench trial, which means Williams will weigh the competing evidence from seven days of proceedings and more than 30 witnesses to issue a verdict.
It is unclear when the judge will render a verdict. Closing arguments are set to begin at 10 a.m. Monday.