Caesar Goodson Jr., the only police officer facing a murder charge in the death of 25-year-old Baltimore resident Freddie Gray last April, was acquitted of all charges Thursday.
"There has been no credible evidence presented at this trial that the defendant intended any crime to happen," Judge Barry Williams said. "Seemingly the state wants this court to assume simply because Mr. Gray was injured … that the defendant intentionally gave Mr. Gray a rough ride."
Goodson, 46, was the third officer of six to be tried for Gray’s death, and his charges were among the most severe. He faced charges of reckless endangerment, manslaughter, and, notably second-degree depraved-heart murder, as the police van driver whose reckless driving prosecutors alleged caused Gray’s fatal neck injury.
According to an autopsy report, Gray’s injury was likely the result of the police van suddenly decelerating. Gray died a week later. However, the depraved-heart murder charge rested on whether prosecutors proved Goodson’s intent.
"The person must show some sort of viciousness or contempt for human life. It is greater than 'negligence' where a person should have been aware of the risk, but failed to see it. The person actually created the risk of harm," Tod W. Burke, Radford University's associate dean and professor of criminal justice, explained to Vox last year. "With a 'depraved heart' it must be shown that the person committed the homicide 'wantonly.'"
This verdict deals yet another blow to the Black Lives Matter movement
The Freddie Gray case is one of the most high-profile cases of the Black Lives Matter movement, and without convictions could have lasting effects.
As Vox’s German Lopez pointed out last May, Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s announcement of the charges against the six officers validated protestors’ outrage — within Baltimore but also elsewhere — in a case where officers "were at the very least criminally negligent, if not downright abusive."
Nonetheless, Goodson is the third officer yet to be convicted of any wrongdoing, and, without a conviction from Goodson, who faced the most severe charges, it is unlikely the remaining three will be charged, either.
Police officers are rarely convicted in criminal cases. According to the National Police Misconduct Project, only 33 percent of police officers charged in 3,238 criminal cases from April 2009 to December 2010 were convicted.
From 2010 to 2014, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland reported that police officers were charged for police-involved shootings less than 2 percent of the time. Sixty-nine percent of these victims were black and 41 percent were unarmed.
Four cases remain to be decided related to Gray’s death — three officers’ trials are pending and the retrial of William Porter is also scheduled for September. However, Goodson’s acquittal makes it far less likely that justice for Gray’s death will be served.