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On Monday morning, Baltimore judge is due to issue a verdict for Lt. Brian Rice, the highest-ranking police officer charged in the death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray, who suffered a broken neck in a police transport van on April 12, 2015.  Gray’s death sparked Black Lives Matter protests across the country and the recent deaths of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile have popularized the movement once again.  According to the testimony of other officers, Rice was one of the three officers on bike patrol the morning Gray was arrested, and he was the officer who placed Gray into the transport wagon after he was shackled — failing to fasten his seat belt.

Rice faces several charges, including:

– Involuntary manslaughter;

– Second-degree reckless assault/reckless endangerment, and;

– Misconduct in office for failing to secure Gray with a seat belt inside a police vehicle.

Same judge acquitted Nero, Goodson

Due to opting for a bench trial over a jury trial, Rice’s case will be heard by Judge Barry Williams. Judge Williams is the same judge who acquitted Officer Edward Nero and Officer Caesar Goodson on all charges related to Gray’s death.

Goodson faced the most serious charges out of all six officers — including second-degree depraved-heart murder. Legal experts have said Goodson’s acquittal could set the tone for the four officers still awaiting trial.

Final witnesses: Medical experts

Two medical experts were the final defense witnesses in Rice’s trial. Both experts said it was very clear Gray’s injuries happened all at once, and happened while the van was on its way to the final stop.  Dr. Matthew Ammerman, a neurosurgeon, concluded that Gray’s neck injury occurred immediately before the van’s final stop.

At the earlier van stops, Gray was talking, and there were no signs of a broken neck.  The testimony is key to the defense’s theory that Gray didn’t need help at the van’s earlier stops.  The state argued Gray was injured earlier and he got progressively worse during the van ride and needed immediate medical help.

Rice did not take the stand but acknowledged in court he understood he had the option to testify.

Other officers testify

Officer Nero, who was found not guilty, and Officer William Porter, whose trial ended in a hung jury in December, were both called to the stand to testify.  Nero testified that Rice put Gray into the transport van after he was shackled. He said Rice pulled him by his arms, left him face down on the floor, and then climbed or slid over him to get out.

According to CNN, while responding to questions from the defense Nero said Gray was flailing and at times resisting. “The floor was deemed a better position,” he said, because more force would have had to be used to get Gray onto a bench.  Porter, who will be retried in September, was forced to testify under immunity granted by the state.

He described Gray’s position in the van, recalled his request for help and explained how he “assisted” him to the van’s bench.  According to Porter’s account he asked Gray if he wanted to go to the hospital, and was told “yes.”  When questioned by the defense, Porter said at that point Gray was speaking to him, making eye contact, and did not show any obvious signs of injury.

Two charges dropped

Judge Williams granted a defense motion Earlier this month, to throw out one of the charges against Rice, saying the state failed to show that he committed assault.  Prosecutors had argued Gray was assaulted and the instrument of the assault was the police van. However, Williams noted the state didn’t prove that Rice ever had control of the vehicle or collaborated with the driver to harm Gray.

A charge of misconduct earlier in the trial, in office against Rice for making an arrest without probable cause was dropped by the state after they said Rice was not directly involved in Gray’s arrest.


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