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Baltimore awaits third Freddie Gray verdict on police officer – and the city

A Baltimore judge is set to announce a verdict for the third of six trials for police officers involved in the death of Freddie Gray. The city is anxious for proof that justice and change are possible.

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    Officer Caesar Goodson leaves the courthouse at the end of day four of his trial in Baltimore, Maryland, on June 14, 2016. Mr. Goodson is charged with the murder of Freddie Gray.
    Bryan Woolston/Reuters
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A criminal verdict expected Thursday in Baltimore, the third trial related to one young black man in police custody, will likely be seen as a measure of the city's judicial system, as well one man's guilt or innocence.  

Freddie Gray died of a spinal injury after officers bound his hands and feet before placing him in the back of a van. Prosecutors have placed the primary blame on Officer Caesar Goodson, the officer driving the van, who faces charges of second-degree murder, manslaughter, assault, reckless endangerment and misconduct in office.

Mr. Goodson's is the third of six cases relating to Mr. Gray's death in police custody. The first ended in a mistrial when a jury could not decide a verdict, a conclusion that frustrated some but highlighted the seriousness all parties gave the case, as Mary Wiltenburg reported for The Christian Science Monitor:

There’s some satisfaction just in seeing the judicial process at work, and the fact that jurors must have had strong convictions and stood by them, says J. Wyndal Gordon, a Baltimore defense attorney who’s attended parts of the [first] trial – and represents two young men facing serious charges that stem from the unrest.

“That takes courage in and of itself. [A]s a lawyer, I really appreciate that,” said Mr. Gordon, who stopped by the protest. But at the same time, as a black man who grew up in Baltimore, he says, “it’s sort of anticlimactic, because we didn’t get anything.”

In the second trial, Judge Barry Williams – the same judge who is set to decide Mr. Goodson's guilt on Thursday – cleared all charges. The case had many of Baltimore's black activists up in arms, although the protests were nonviolent this time, the Monitor's Henry Gass reported.

"So far we've had a mistrial and an acquittal. No one has been held accountable for the killing of Freddie Gray," Rev. Cortly "C.D." Witherspoon, a local activist, told The Monitor. "The only measure of justice that will lead to healing is the conviction of these officers."

But attorneys with knowledge of that case said the verdict represented neither a lack of accountability nor a failure of the justice system, as it left more "unresolved and unanswered" questions than any in recent memory.

"There are substantial benefits to a public trial and prosecution, whatever the outcome," Douglas Colbert, a professor at University of Maryland's Francis King Carey School of Law, told The Monitor. "Sometimes trials may not result in the justice that people seek, but lead to change that will avoid further catastrophes."

The value of a public trial has been displayed in this third case, as attorneys for the prosecution and the defense (the officer himself declined to testify) accused each other of dirty dealing in open court. The prosecution abandoned its initial strategy of suggesting that the van driver gave Gray a "rough ride" with the intent to harm after video showed him checking on the prisoner after a stop, and witnesses testified that Gray was kicking on the doors so powerfully that the van shook.

Regardless of Thursday's verdict, this case will have altered Baltimore, which experienced its worst-ever, days-long protests following Gray's death in April of 2015. Baltimore's fate, like that of Goodson, is still being decided, but one thing has become obvious already: new people want to weigh in on the decision.

Voter turnout in the April primary reached a record high, 20 percent higher than for the election for America's first black president, as the Monitor's Francine Kiefer reported. An incumbent mayor criticized for her response to protests bowed out, and voters instead elected Democrat Catherine Pugh, an African-American state senator whose district covered the poverty-stricken neighborhood of Sandtown-Winchester that Gray called home.

Crime has risen in those areas as police stepped back, but businesses and community groups are pouring in money in the hope that the conversation will lead to improvement.

"Baltimore is going to rise," Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings from Baltimore told the Monitor. "The question's not whether Baltimore will be fine economically, the question is whether all of Baltimore – and I emphasize all – will rise together."

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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