Times Union, Albany, N.Y.
KINGSTON — State Trooper Christopher Baldner will no longer face a second-degree murder charge for the death of 11-year-old Monica Goods, who was killed during a December 2020 chase on the state Thruway that involved the officer, according to an Ulster County judge’s ruling on Thursday.
In the 23-page ruling, County Court Judge Bryan Rounds found the evidence failed to prove Baldner acted with “depraved indifference to human life” during the pursuit, when he collided multiple times with a minivan driven by Tristin Goods, Monica’s father, on the Thruway. Four passengers were in the van, including Monica, who was thrown from the vehicle while it flipped several times.
Baldner, 44, a resident of Greene County, still faces a second-degree manslaughter charge and three counts of second-degree reckless endangerment for the other passengers in the vehicle. He has been under investigation by the attorney general’s office for the crash since Dec. 28, 2020. His police cruiser reached 130 mph during the pursuit, according to prosecutors.
Baldner is also facing three reckless endangerment charges for a 2019 incident, when allegedly rammed a Dodge Caravan carrying three people on the Thruway in the town of Ulster, just north of Kingston. The van’s driver, Jonathan Muthu, lost control of the vehicle as a result of the collision, spinning into the median and crashing into a guardrail, according to the indictment.
Rounds’ decision also reduced six first-degree reckless endangerment charges because he said that the prosecution failed to prove Baldner had acted with “depraved indifference to human life” in either high-speed chase. In his ruling, Rounds cited a number of examples that would constitute such behavior, including firing a gun into a crowd; dropping a large stone from an overpass onto a busy highway; placing a time bomb in a public place; poisoning a well where people are accustomed to draw water; and opening a drawbridge as a train is about to pass over it.
Ramming a vehicle during a pursuit — known as a “pit maneuver” — is allowed by State Police in extremely rare circumstances, Rounds wrote, and he noted that grand jury testimony indicated Baldner hit the brakes between the first and second impacts.
Rounds did criticize the trooper in his ruling, writing that his behavior during the traffic stop that set off the chase “might be charitably described as vulgar” and saying he did not comply with “professional standards of the New York State Police.” And he denied a motion by Baldner’s attorneys to dismiss the indictment entirely.
But, he wrote, “a reckless, nonetheless still unintentional, killing cannot proceed as though an intentional murder.”
The attorney general’s office said it is reviewing the judge’s ruling.
If convicted of second-degree manslaughter, Baldner faces a maximum sentence of five to 15 years in prison. Second-degree murder carries a maximum sentence of 25 years to life.
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