Often charged, Baltimore man goes to trial and is acquitted in quintuple shooting at Memorial Day cookout

At 24, David Warren is no stranger to Baltimore's criminal justice system. Starting when he was 14, he was charged five times with attempted murder, and all five times the charges were dropped.

This week, he went to trial on five more attempted-murder charges as well as 29 other counts — all stemming from a quintuple shooting at a Memorial Day cookout in North Baltimore last year. Friday, a jury decided he was not guilty of any of it.

Police Commissioner Kevin Davis had called Warren a "trigger puller ... who should absolutely not be on the streets of Baltimore." Warren's attorney, Stephen Patrick Beatty, said Friday it was unfair to hold the past cases against his client.

"What happens is a person gets wrongfully accused, and he ends up on the radar of police, and he stays on the radar even when it's a case they can't make," Beatty said. "Anytime something happens, he's someone who they come looking for."

The state's latest case relied on just one witness, a 61-year-old woman who was handing food to her husband to grill in front of their home in the Pen Lucy area when she said a vehicle pulled up and a gunman opened fire. The woman testified that she was familiar with Warren and had identified him from a photo lineup as the shooter.

Assistant State's Attorney Linda Ramirez told jurors the witness was brave to testify against Warren and her identification was enough to convict him.

"This is Baltimore City in 2017," Ramirez said. "Police tried to find other witnesses, and no one would say anything or could say anything. ... That's how the criminal justice system works. It sometimes has to rely on one single witness."

Beatty countered that the witness' testimony was too shaky and not supported by any other evidence. He said prosecutors presented hours of generic testimony, none of which pointed to Warren as the shooter.

"This is not a how a responsible police force handles a situation where five people are shot," he said. "The citizens of Baltimore deserve better."

Police spokesman T.J. Smith said the department would not comment on the verdict or its past comments about Warren.

Warren will not be released from jail following his acquittal. Federal prosecutors indicted him on gun charges last August, which are pending, according to court records.

Warren has been charged several times in recent years with serious crimes, mostly avoiding serious time.

In 2006, he faced attempted-murder and gun charges, which were dropped. Three years later, attempted first-degree murder and robbery, burglary and assault charges were dropped. In 2010, he was charged a third time with attempted first-degree murder, with the same result.

Then in 2012, he was charged with being part of a conspiracy of murder and retaliatory violence by an East Baltimore drug gang. Those charges were also dropped.

Warren pleaded guilty in 2013 to armed robbery from 2011 and received 15 years, with all but five years suspended. It's unclear how much of that sentenced he served.

In 2015, he was charged with firearms counts and with conspiracy to distribute drugs related to a raid on the East Baltimore Safe Streets anti-violence program. Those charges were dropped last year.

"It's up to the state to dismiss a case, and I have faith that they wouldn't do that if they had a case that they could make," Beatty said. "To hold that against my client I don't think is fair at all."

When Warren was arrested May 31 for the cookout shooting, police said he tried to flee and discarded two loaded .40-caliber pistols. He has been indicted in U.S. District Court on those gun charges, which are pending.

Ramirez told jurors that she didn't know a motive for the cookout shooting, or have video or physical evidence that links Warren to the crime.

"We don't manufacture evidence," Ramirez told jurors. "We follow where it leads us, and in this case ... the trail, while not wide or particularly long" points to Warren, she said.

The state's key witness was Jenice Barksdale. She disappeared from the courthouse just before she was to take the witness stand Thursday, causing sheriff's deputies to scour surveillance camera footage to make sure she had not been harmed.

After being located, Barksdale, wearing green flip-flops, slowly walked to the witness stand. Asked whether she recognized the gunman, she paused. "Yeah," she said.

"Do you see that person in the courtroom?" Ramirez asked.

"[The shooter] was littler than him," she said at first, referring to Warren.

Ramirez continued asking Barksdale to identify Warren, causing Beatty to object. Chief Judge Alfred Nance allowed Ramirez to continue, and Barksdale eventually raised her finger and pointed to Warren.

"The state was able to bring her around to what the state, in order to prove their case, hoped she would say," Beatty told jurors. "That alone is reasonable doubt."

Ramirez said Barksdale was "scared out of her mind" to testify but "knew she had to tell the truth."

In her interview with police and in her testimony Thursday, Barksdale said the gunman had pulled up in a light blue minivan with a sliding door. Surveillance camera footage showed a dark-colored SUV.

Beatty said it was no mere mistake, but a detailed and incorrect description.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, chairman of the council's Public Safety Committee, said the ability to put career criminals behind bars relies on a spectrum of people and institutions to do their job — from the council and mayor to witnesses, the Police Department, prosecutors and the judicial system. Improvement is needed on every level, Scott said.

"It just can't be a 61-year-old woman stepping up," Scott said. "It has to be men, young men, who know what happened and won't say something. You can't let someone's grandmother be the only voice. I totally get people's fear and hesitance. That fear allows these people to continuously commit these crimes and leads to neighborhoods where people fear to go outside."

Councilman Bill Henry, who represents the area where the Memorial Day shooting occurred, said he wanted to know more about the case before drawing conclusions.

"I am disappointed, understandably so, if the police believe they had found the people responsible for the crime and that case couldn't be made in court," Henry said.

Melba Saunders, spokeswoman for the city state's attorney's office, said: "While today's verdict was not our desired outcome, we will continue to respect the judicial process and support the victims of this atrocious act as they attempt to heal."

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

jfenton@baltsun.com

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