Man initially considered a suspect in 3-year-old's murder is released

The 21-year-old man Baltimore officials had called a suspect in the killing of 3-year-old McKenzie Elliott was released from jail Wednesday after two months without being charged in the fatal shooting.

Asked whether the man is still considered a person of interest in the case, the Baltimore Police Department released a statement saying the investigation "has shifted."

"We have substantial leads that we are continuing to follow," the statement read. Officials declined to elaborate.

McKenzie was struck by a stray bullet while standing on a porch in Waverly on Aug. 1. Two other people were shot and survived. The incident shook the community, and officials urged people to come forward with tips.

Days later, Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts vowed that an arrest would be made within the week, and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake later said authorities had a suspect in custody on unrelated charges.

On Wednesday, Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke expressed frustration over the uncertainty of whether police had identified the wrong man.

"Is he cleared? Is it possible he was involved and will commit further random acts of violence against our children?" she said. "We need justice. … It's not acceptable that we don't have charges and are moving toward a conviction."

Reached late Wednesday, McKenzie's mother, Nina Epps, said she hadn't heard the man was being released and was frustrated that the case remains unsolved. She declined further comment.

The man was identified in some media reports. The Baltimore Sun has not identified him because he has not been charged in connection with the crime.

He turned himself in Aug. 7 and was held without bond on an unrelated probation violation stemming from a prior weapons charge. Sources at the time said police considered him a suspect in the case and were hoping that by taking him off the street, witnesses might be encouraged to come forward.

In Baltimore Circuit Court on Wednesday, there was no mention of the shooting. Prosecutors asked for his probation violation to be dismissed as long as he promised to demonstrate that he was looking for steady work. Afterward, his family declined to comment.

Elizabeth Julian, the top public defender for Baltimore, said it was "disheartening and disturbing that this young man's name has been put out there, and after all this time they don't even have probable cause for an arrest."

The man was already in the state's Violence Prevention Initiative, a classification within the parole and probation system that applies extra scrutiny to offenders under supervision. His placement in the program stemmed from a 2013 conviction for possession of a firearm that resulted in a suspended three-year sentence.

Lawrence Rosenberg, who was the man's attorney during that case, told The Sun last month he was under the impression homicide detectives expected to charge the man in the McKenzie case. He said prosecutors were present when he turned himself in.

"I had no idea they were going to just charge him with a violation of probation," Rosenberg said.

For two months, the man was held at the Baltimore City Detention Center without bond. Last month, he submitted a handwritten petition asking for a bail review.

In the petition, he noted that he hadn't missed any meetings with his probation officer and had not been the subject of any new charges.

On Wednesday, Assistant State's Attorney Mark Floersheimer said the man's violation was for not showing up on time to meetings with his probation agent.

The man wrote in his petition that "I would promise I'd make it before 12 noon for [sic] here on out until I get employed again."

Floersheimer asked for the probation violation to be dismissed on the condition that Judge Philip Senan Jackson require that the man demonstrate that he was actively applying for jobs. Jackson granted the request. His public defender, Nicole Love-Kelly, noted that he had been seeking work through a temp agency.

At a community event days after McKenzie was shot, Batts told residents and media, "We will bring them to justice before the end of the week." Days later, Batts said police were searching for the "person of interest," and the man turned himself in on the probation violation warrant the next day.

Rawlnigs-Blake could not be reached for comment on the case. Speaking at a forum at the Empowerment Temple in early September, the mayor had said McKenzie's killer was "in jail but we can't charge him."

"He's held on something else," she said.

At that forum, the mayor urged anyone who knew something about the killing to come forward. If they do, she said, "We'll have real charges that will stick.

"We need to start speaking up for our kids who are getting killed," the mayor said. "We have to do better for ourselves."

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad