Homicide detectives crowd around the desk of Det. Damon Talley as he pores over surveillance footage of the Sept. 21, 2015 fatal shooting of Kevin Cannady, 29. The conviction and life sentence of the man charged with killing Cannady was overturned this week by a Maryland appeals court.
Homicide detectives crowd around the desk of Det. Damon Talley as he pores over surveillance footage of the Sept. 21, 2015 fatal shooting of Kevin Cannady, 29. The conviction and life sentence of the man charged with killing Cannady was overturned this week by a Maryland appeals court. (Justin Fenton / Baltimore Sun)

A Maryland appeals court has overturned a Baltimore man’s 2017 murder conviction, saying the prosecution used hearsay testimony and relied on a questionable DNA testing method to bolster an otherwise “lackluster" case short on evidence.

The investigation into the death of Kevin Cassady had been chronicled from behind the scenes in The Baltimore Sun’s “Chasing a Killer” series in 2015. Prosecutors alleged that Delvonta Morten shot Cannady execution-style in broad daylight on a street corner in Northwest Baltimore. They said he could be seen wearing a black, hooded sweatshirt on surveillance video before the killing, and that his DNA was found on the gun that was used.

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The Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that Morten — who was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison — was wrongly denied the opportunity to challenge evidence in court.

Judge Charles Moylan wrote the majority opinion and was particularly derisive of the prosecution’s case, subtitling one section, “Hearsay To The Rescue, Ostensibly.”

“The bare bones of the State’s legally insufficient case, however, were soon fleshed out by three rapid-fire infusions of hearsay evidence,” Moyland wrote. Without the hearsay evidence and questionable DNA, the state had no case, he wrote.

“But for wearing a hoodie, there was no linkage between the appellant and the shooting. There was absolutely no linkage between the appellant and the revolver found in a backyard in the alley,” Moylan wrote. If the faulty evidence had been excluded from trial, as it should have been, the judge wrote, “The appellant would have walked.”

Zy Richardson, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, said her office would review the decision to see whether it will appeal.

The appeals court decision was equally critical of Circuit Judge Melissa Phinn for refusing to allow defense attorneys to fully cross-examine a witness about the DNA method used in the case. It is one typically applied when there is only a small amount of material to examine.

“We hold that the appellant was at two or three critical junctions erroneously prohibited from challenging the TrueAllele test results that linked him to the ostensible murder weapon,” the appeals court wrote.

The case was sent back to Baltimore City Circuit Court for new hearings and likely a new trial.

Phinn sentenced Morten in 2017 to life plus 35 years in the September 2015 killing of Cannady, 29. Morten was convicted of shooting Cannady execution-style in broad daylight on a Northwest Baltimore street corner.

After the verdict, Morten’s defense attorneys asked Phinn for a new trial, saying she had wrongly prohibited them from challenging DNA evidence. Public defender Kelly Swanston also said she had provided ineffective counsel because she did not ask that jurors be questioned more closely about whether they had read Sun coverage of the case.

Only the DNA issue was brought up on appeal.

Morten asserted his innocence when given a chance to speak before sentencing.

“My attorney failed to prove my innocence,” he said. “I do believe I didn’t have a fair trial due to the newspaper article.”

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