What is 'depraved heart' murder? Charge in Freddie Gray's death explained

What is depraved heart murder? An explanation of the top charge against the officers who arrested Freddie Gray

Of the list of charges lodged against the six officers involved in the arrest that led to Freddie Gray's death last month in Baltimore, the "depraved heart" murder charge faced by Officer Caeser R. Goodson Jr. may be the most unfamiliar.

The wording may seem uncommon, but it refers to a "depraved indifference" crime, in which the defendant committed an action that was recklessly indifferent to the harm it might inflict on another person or people.

After his arrest, the 25-year-old was driven to various locations throughout West Baltimore in a police van, and prosecutors contend that officers ignored his repeated pleas for medical aid. Goodson was driving the van, and Gray died a week later of a severed spine.

In Maryland, "depraved heart" murder carries the same weight as a second-degree murder charge and is punishable by up to 30 years in prison. The charge is less serious than a first-degree intentional killing or murder charge, but it still involves a reckless disregard for another person's life.

If, for example, a person fires a gun in a crowded room and someone dies, he could be charged with "depraved heart" murder, according to the Cornell University Legal Information Institute.

In court filings, a Maryland appellate judge once described the charge as a "highly blameworthy state of mind" that represents more than simple negligence.

"It involves rather the deliberate perpetration of a knowingly dangerous act with reckless and wanton unconcern and indifference as to whether anyone is harmed or not," the judge wrote.

Times staff writer Joseph Tanfani contributed to this report.

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