Baltimore cop's murder trial verdict due in death of Freddie Gray

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[June 23, 2016]  (Reuters) - A Maryland judge will issue his verdict on Thursday in the closely watched murder trial of a Baltimore police officer for the death of black detainee Freddie Gray, an incident that triggered rioting and protests.

Officer Caesar Goodson Jr, 46, was the driver of a police wagon in which Gray broke his neck in April 2015. Prosecutors said he gave Gray a "rough ride," failed to ensure his safety and should have called for a medic.

Goodson's defense team argued in Baltimore City Circuit Court 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.

Goodson faces the most serious charges among the six officers charged in Gray's death, making his the marquee case for prosecutors. They failed to secure a conviction in two earlier trials of officers.

Judge Barry Williams will hand down his verdict on Thursday morning. Goodson waived a jury trial, and Williams is hearing the case in a bench trial.

Gray's death spawned protests, rioting and arson in the majority African-American city of 620,000 people and stoked a debate on U.S. police treatment of people of color.

Gray, 25, was arrested for fleeing police officers unprovoked in a high-crime area. He was bundled into Goodson's van shackled and was not seatbelted inside the van, a violation of police procedure.

Goodson, who is also African-American, is charged with second-degree depraved heart murder, three counts of manslaughter, reckless endangerment, second-degree assault and misconduct in office.

If convicted on all charges, he faces more than 68 years in prison.

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Baltimore Police officer Caesar Goodson Jr., 46, the third officer to face trial for Freddie Gray's death in a police van, arrives at the courthouse for the first day of jury selection in Baltimore, Maryland, United States on January 11, 2016. REUTERS/Jose Luis Magana/Pool/File Photo

During closing arguments on Monday, Williams peppered prosecutors with questions about what evidence they had that Goodson had bounced Gray around in the van with intent to harm him.

Prosecutor Michael Schatzow told Williams that Goodson's failure to secure Gray and his injuries were enough to show that Gray had gotten a "rough ride."

In the two previous cases, the manslaughter trial of Officer William Porter ended in a hung jury in December, and he faces retrial in September. Williams acquitted Officer Edward Nero of misdemeanor charges last month.

(Writing by Ian Simpson in Washington, editing by G Crosse)

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