Baltimore cop found not guilty of second-degree murder in Freddie Gray death

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Caesar Goodson's Verdict Puts the Other Freddie Gray Cases in Question

BALTIMORE, June 23 (Reuters) - Baltimore police officer Caesar Goodson Jr. on Thursday was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died of injuries sustained while in police custody.

Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams found Goodson, who is also black, not guilty of all criminal counts including second-degree depraved heart murder, the most serious accusation against any of the six officers charged in connection with Gray's death.

Prosecutor had failed to secure convictions in two earlier trials of police officers.

Goodson, 46, was the driver of a police transport van in which Gray broke his neck in April 2015. He had also faced three counts of manslaughter, and single counts of reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

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"This court is satisfied the state has failed to show" evidence of the crimes, Williams said. Goodson, a 16-year veteran of the force, had waived his right to a jury trial, choosing to have the judge determine his fate.

Goodson, a soft-spoken man who had been visibly nervous and during the proceedings, smiled upon hearing the verdict.

Attorneys for each side declined to comment following the ruling, citing a gag order imposed by the court as a result of the multiple cases that remained to be prosecuted.

'NO JUSTICE'

Williams' decision makes it less likely prosecutors will be successful in their attempts to convict the three officers yet to stand trial, said Tim Maloney, a civil rights attorney with Joseph Greenwald & Laake.

"This is what happens when you make charging decisions in the heat of a riot instead of reviewing evidence in the cool light of day," Maloney said.

Gray's death sparked a day of rioting and arson, followed by weeks of protests in the majority African-American city of 620,000 people.

It came at a time of fierce national debate over the use of excessive force by police, especially against black men amid questionable deaths in New York, Cleveland and Ferguson, Missouri.

The deaths and ensuing protests gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement.

Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby announced that she would file charges four days after the riots that followed Gray's funeral, surprising some observers for its swiftness.

"While it may have been successful in quelling the civil disturbance, it created a profound injustice for these officers," Maloney said.

RELATED: Protests in response to mistrial in Freddie Gray case

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Protests in response to mistrial in Freddie Gray case, Baltimore
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Protests in response to mistrial in Freddie Gray case, Baltimore
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Protesters march through the streets after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on the third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Protesters confront Baltimore City Police officers as they march through the streets after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on the third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
A protester speaks to policeman in reaction to a mistrial declared in the trial of police officer William Porter in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. The manslaughter trial of a Baltimore policeman accused over the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray was declared a mistrial after the jury failed to reach a verdict, putting the city on edge. Police were out in force in parts of the gritty East Coast city in a bid to avoid a repeat of the riots and looting that erupted after the death in April of the 25-year-old Gray, the latest in a series of high-profile cases of perceived police brutality in the United States. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters march in Baltimore after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddie Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Protesters gather at the site of last Aprils riots after todays mistrial in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on third day of deliberations in PorterÃs trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.Ã (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: A protester holds a sign at the site of last Aprils riots after todays mistrial in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on third day of deliberations in PorterÃs trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray.Ã (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Police stand guard as protesters march through the streets hours after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on the third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Protesters march through the streets hours after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Richard Shipley, Freddie Gray'stepfather, left, with Gray's mother Gloria Darden and lawyer Billy Murphy speaks with the media after a mistrial was declared in the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore Md. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
The Rev. C.D. Witherspoon speaks during a peaceful protest at the intersection of North and Pennsylvania Avenues, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore, the site of unrest following the funeral of Freddie Gray. Peaceful protests took place in response to a hung jury and mistrial for Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to Gray's death. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Demonstrators protest outside of the city hall in response to a hung jury and mistrial for Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore Md. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Protesters march in Baltimore after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddie Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Demonstrators protest outside of the courthouse after a mistrial was declared in the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore Md. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
BALTIMORE MD- DECEMBER 16: Law enforcement warns the displeased protesters that they are breaking the law as they react to the mistrial declared in the Freddie Gray Case at the Baltimore City Circuit County Court for Baltimore officer William G. Porter accused of involuntary manslaughter in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake, left, and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis, right, during a news conference at police headquarters with other city officials to discuss plans for dealing with the reaction to the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Amy Davis/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Protesters march around City Hall in Baltimore after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddie Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Police stand outside the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse after the hung-jury was announced in the trial of Police Officer William Porter, in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. The manslaughter trial of a Baltimore policeman accused over the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray was declared a mistrial after the jury failed to a reach a verdict, putting the city on edge. AFP PHOTO/ MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
A demonstrator is detained outside of the courthouse after a mistrial of Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
Demonstrators protest outside of the courthouse in response to a hung jury and mistrial for Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore Md. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: A protester yells at members of the Baltimore City Sheriffs Department in front of the Baltimore City City Circuit Courthouse East, after a mistrial was declared in the trial of Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The judge declared a mistrial on third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
One protestor tries to calm another after officers from the Baltimore Sheriff's Department arrested a protestor across the street from Courthouse East following the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Officers from the Baltimore Sheriff's Department try to secure the area as they arrest a protestor across the street from Courthouse East after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddie Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a sign during the trial of Police Officer William Porter at Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Protesters react outside Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse after the hung-jury was announced in the trial of Police Officer William Porter, in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. The manslaughter trial of a Baltimore policeman accused over the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray was declared a mistrial after the jury failed to a reach a verdict, putting the city on edge. AFP PHOTO/ MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Officers from the Baltimore Sheriff's Department arrest a protestor across the street from Courthouse East after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddie Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
A demonstrator holds a sign during the trial of Police Officer William Porter at Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. AFP PHOTO/MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
Police arrest a protester outside Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse after the hung-jury was announced in the trial of Police Officer William Porter, in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. The manslaughter trial of a Baltimore policeman accused over the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray was declared a mistrial after the jury failed to a reach a verdict, putting the city on edge. AFP PHOTO/ MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 16: Protesters hold signs in front of the Baltimore City City Circuit Courthouse East, while a jury continues deliberations in Baltimore police Officer William G. Porter's trial, December 16, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The jury is in its third day of deliberations in Porter's trial, which is the first of six trials of police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Protesters march along Calver Street in Baltimore, outside the courthouse after the announcement of a hung jury in the trial of Officer William Porter in the Freddy Gray case, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images)
Police stand outside the Baltimore City Circuit Courthouse after the hung-jury was announced in the trial of Police Officer William Porter, in Baltimore, Maryland on December 16, 2015. The manslaughter trial of a Baltimore policeman accused over the death in custody of African-American Freddie Gray was declared a mistrial after the jury failed to a reach a verdict, putting the city on edge. AFP PHOTO/ MOLLY RILEY / AFP / MOLLY RILEY (Photo credit should read MOLLY RILEY/AFP/Getty Images)
CORRECTS WORD MISDEMEANOR TO MANSLAUGHTER - Baltimore Police Department Commissioner Kevin Davis, left, urges calm as he speaks at a press conference alongside Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2015, in Baltimore, following a hung jury and mistrial in the manslaughter trial Officer William Porter, one of six Baltimore city police officers charged in connection to the death of Freddie Gray. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
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Tessa Hill Aston, president of the Baltimore chapter of the NAACP civil rights group was disappointed by the decision.

"There has been no justice for Freddie Gray," she said. "The criminal charges didn't hold up in court, but that doesn't mean the police didn't do something wrong in the eyes of the community."

Prosecutors contended Goodson gave Gray a "rough ride," failed to ensure his safety and should have called a medic.

"That is an inflammatory term ... that when uttered is not to be taken lightly," said Williams.

Goodson's defense team argued that Gray caused his own injuries by falling inside the transport van. Goodson also lacked the training to recognize that Gray was hurt, they said.

Gray, 25, was arrested after fleeing police officers in a high-crime area. He was bundled into Goodson's van shackled and not secured with a seat belt inside the van, a violation of police procedure.

Several dozen protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting "Justice for Freddie Gray."

(Writing by Ian Simpson and Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

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