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No-nonsense judge smashes state's case in Officer Goodson trial

With precision, confidence and the no-nonsense style for which he is well known, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams today destroyed the state's case against Officer Caesar Goodson, exposing it as a vessel of clay and smashing it to bits.

With precision, confidence and the no-nonsense style for which he is well known, Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams on Thursday destroyed the state's case against Officer Caesar Goodson, exposing it as a vessel of clay and smashing it to bits.

When Williams was finished reading his verdicts, there was nothing left.

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In fact, the way the judge saw it, there was nothing there to begin with.

The judge's conclusion: The death of Freddie Gray from spinal cord injuries sustained in the back of a police van was not caused by the criminal conduct of the Baltimore officer who drove that van. It was not murder. It was not manslaughter. Not reckless endangerment. It did not even rise to misconduct.

There was no evidence, Williams said several times, that Goodson knew or should have known that Gray needed medical attention on the morning of April 12, 2015, as Goodson drove Gray from his arrest in Sandtown-Winchester to the Western District police station.

As for the claim that Goodson gave Gray a "rough ride" through West Baltimore, again Williams smashed away the state's case. He called the use of the term "inflammatory," and said the state never showed that Goodson held ill feelings toward Gray, or that he even knew him. There was no evidence that Gray spat at, kicked or bit Goodson or his fellow officers, conduct that might have provoked "rough ride" revenge.

That bit about Goodson's stopping the van to check on Gray, perhaps concerned that his alleged "rough ride" had caused more injury to Gray than Goodson had intended?

Nothing there. Mere speculation. The stop lasted only 11 seconds, Williams said, hardly enough time for Goodson to assess an injury, and hardly the kind of "evidence" that shows malicious intent.

As in many instances with the state's case, there was more insinuation than evidence. To hear the judge tell it, this wasn't even a close call.

There was nothing to support the "rough ride" claim, and nothing to find Goodson guilty beyond a doubt of second-degree depraved-heart murder, the most serious charge against any of the officers accused in Gray's death.

Williams, a former prosecutor, did not speak with anger; he did not sneer. Reading glasses on his nose, he presented his findings with sober command of facts and law.

Less than halfway through the reading, it was clear the judge was unimpressed with the state's insinuations and speculations about Goodson's behavior during the drive through West Baltimore. In the 40 minutes it took him to read his opinions, Williams used certain phrases, some repeatedly, that signaled the verdicts to come:

"No evidence that the defendant knew or should have known ..."

"Evidence does not show ..."

"Those facts have not been presented to this court ..."

"The state failed to meet its burden ..."

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"The court finds that there is insufficient evidence ..."

There wasn't a syllable in favor of the prosecution.

About 25 minutes into his opinion, Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby appeared to shake her head, as in SMH, as in, "I can't believe this."

Mosby, who became an international sensation last May by charging six cops in Gray's arrest and death, sat in the first row of the gallery, not at the trial table, as Williams went on with his point-by-point dissection of her case.

Of all the officers she charged, Goodson was Mosby's biggest target. She won acclaim and instant celebrity for having the audacity to charge a cop with murder. But now, as Williams went on with his demolition — "The state presented no credible evidence to support that allegation" — Mosby's star turn seemed like a distant speck.

Prosecutors Michael Schatzow and Janice Bledsoe had tried their best to convince Williams that Goodson's actions (or inaction) rose to the criminal. At the trial table, they sat still for most of the reading, with Bledsoe slightly slouched in her chair, like a couple of law students having their final papers ripped apart by a professor in front of the entire class.

I should say Williams dismantled the case because that's probably a more precise, and polite, word for the lesson in evidence and criminal liability he gave the state — and all of us — Thursday morning.

But he really did smash it to bits.

There were hugs on Goodson's side of the courtroom after Williams declared him not guilty of all charges. The judge quickly adjourned the court and left the bench, as if he had other cases to tend to. And certainly he must. This is the city of Baltimore, after all, with a serious crime problem that deserves the full attention of the state's attorney and her best prosecutors.

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