BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore Judge Barry Williams will be sorting through plenty of contradictory and confusing testimony when he decides the case of a police officer charged with murder in the death of a black prisoner whose neck was broken in a transport van.
From the arrested man who rode in the van with 25-year-old Freddie Gray to the lead detective’s testimony about what the medical examiner initially thought caused Gray’s death, the case against Officer Caesar Goodson is a convoluted narrative, with the reliability of witnesses constantly under heavy fire.
Donta Allen, who rode in the van with Gray on April 12, 2015, closed out Thursday’s testimony, clad in handcuffs and leg chains while slouching in the witness stand. At first, he told defense attorney Matthew Fraling he didn’t remember anything from the day of the van ride. He initially told police at the time that the ride was smooth and that he heard Gray banging his head inside.
However, Allen testified in court that he had used heroin and Xanax that day, and his recollection was different Thursday. Under cross-examination by prosecutor Janice Bledsoe, Allen said he never saw Gray through a divider in the van. So, he testified, he was guessing when he told police Gray was banging his head.
“I just heard moving around,” Allen testified, adding that the sound he heard wasn’t very loud, more of a light rapping.
One minute, Allen said he had no memory at all about the van ride, telling Fraling a document set before him would do nothing to refresh it. Under questioning by prosecutors, the recollections came more freely.
Allen was clear on one point Fraling asked him about: his initial statement to police that he had not used drugs when he spoke to them after the van ride.
“I lied,” Allen said.
The judge also will be weighing contradictory testimony relating to the medical examiner who determined Gray’s cause of death — and tensions between the police and prosecutors.
Michael Schatzow, the city’s chief deputy state’s attorney, said he tried to have the lead detective removed from the case last year because he believed she was “sabotaging the investigation” by holding back information. Schatzow disclosed the detail during his cross-examination about Detective Dawnyell Taylor’s notes on her meetings with an assistant medical examiner in April 2015 about Gray’s cause of death.
While prosecutors contend Gray was murdered, Taylor said Dr. Carol Allan initially described Gray’s death as “a freakish accident,” one that “no human hands” could have caused.
“She said it was an accident,” Taylor testified.
Taylor’s testimony is significant because Allan called Gray’s death a homicide in her official report. “I had an open mind, and after reading the medical records and performing the autopsy, that’s when I said, this is not an accident,” Allan testified last week. “The word ‘accident’ never crossed my lips.”
But Taylor testified Thursday that Allan said Gray’s death was an accident “about three times.”
Schatzow asked if police who attended one of the meetings with the medical examiner were pressuring the medical examiner into finding Gray’s death was an accident, but Taylor denied that.
“No one was suggesting anything to her,” Taylor testified.
Schatzow also noted there was friction between Taylor and prosecutor Bledsoe during the investigation, when Bledsoe sought information from the detective. Taylor said Bledsoe had “a tantrum” during a review of documents. Schatzow asked if Taylor’s notes about the medical examiner’s initial cause-of-death comments were written after Taylor had had the problem with Bledsoe.
Taylor testified that she has problems with Bledsoe “about her integrity.” Schatzow countered that Bledsoe had made allegations about Taylor’s integrity.
The seventh day of the trial begins Friday. Goodson, who was the van driver, is charged with second-degree “depraved heart” murder. He also is charged with manslaughter, assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment charges. Prosecutors have yet to win a conviction. The first trial of another officer ended in a hung jury. A second officer was acquitted by the judge. Three other officers are charged in the case, in addition to Goodson.