Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox has granted a new trial to Keith Davis Jr., the Baltimore man who has been tried four times for murder and once for armed robbery, and whose case has become a rallying cry for social justice activists in the city.
With an order Thursday, Cox granted the request for a new trial filed 14 months ago by Davis’ public defender. The attorney, Deborah Katz Levi, director of special litigation for the public defender’s office, said it’s finally time for Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to give up.
“It is clear that another trial would not serve the interest of justice,” she wrote in an email. “The State’s Attorney now has the opportunity to see the error of her ways and decline to reprosecute Mr. Davis. After six years and five trials, her office has been unable to obtain a conviction, and Mr. Davis, who is innocent, deserves to go home, be with his wife, Kelly, and raise their children.”
Davis, 29, was serving a 50-year prison term for the murder of Kevin Jones. The Pimlico security guard was gunned down in the early morning of June 2015 while walking to work. Jones’ aunt declined to comment Thursday.
Kelly Davis has organized rallies and protest marches over her husband’s case. She’s also had sharp words for Mosby.
“I’m happy that the courts reversed course, and I’m just praying that Marilyn Mosby does the right thing,” she said. “She can reverse course and end this, so we can move on with our lives.”
Mosby may choose to try Davis a fifth time for murder — or drop the charges. Her office did not immediately comment Thursday.
Prosecutors, however, are not permitted to appeal Cox’s order, Levi said.
She sought a new trial for Davis based on a ruling last year by the state’s highest court. In the case called Kazadi v. State, the Maryland Court of Appeals decided a judge must, if an attorney requests it, question jurors about legal principles surrounding impartiality, such as a defendant’s right not to testify and the presumption of innocence.
Levi argued that she was not permitted to ask such questions while picking jurors for Davis’ fourth murder trial.
“We are pleased that the Court acknowledged its error,” she wrote. “The journey along Mr. Davis’s wrongful incarceration has been too long.”
University of Baltimore Law Professor David Jaros said the case is too compromised by now.
“It’s not a statement of innocence as much as I don’t think we can feel confident about a conviction after the many reversals,” he said. “There comes a time when, though not necessarily the fault of the state’s attorney’s office, one just can’t try the case and walk away confident in the verdict. I think this might be one of those cases.”
Davis has maintained that he did not kill Jones. His first trial resulted in a hung jury. His conviction in the second was overturned. The third trial resulted in another hung jury.
In July 2019, he was tried a fourth time for the murder. He was convicted on evidence that his clothing matched that worn by the killer in surveillance footage, that cellphone records placed him in the area around the time of the killing, and that police found him with the murder weapon.
Levi argued police planted the murder weapon as cover after shooting an unarmed Davis. The jury convicted him of second-degree murder.
In March 2020, Cox sentenced him to the maximum penalty under the law: 50 years in prison. His health has worsened since then, and he contracted the coronavirus behind bars. Mosby’s office has been reviewing the cases of elderly and nonviolent prisoners and petitioning the courts to release them, an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus behind bars.
In a hearing last May, Levi argued Davis should be released, considering the appeals court ruling. Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel acknowledged Davis might receive a new trial, but the prosecutor called the issue a “technicality.”
“The remedy [if the conviction is overturned] is not that the defendant goes home — it’s that we’re going to try him again,” Seidel said during the hearing. “Mr. Davis belongs in jail for what he did.”
Seidel left the state’s attorney’s office this year to work for the Baltimore firm Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin, White.
The Kazadi decision has had far-reaching implications. In December, judges granted a new trial on the grounds to Marco Holmes, who was convicted of killing his girlfriend, Tonja Chadwick, and dumping her body in the woods in 2017.
The decision caused the appeals court to overturn the conviction of Marquese Winston. He was sentenced to life in prison for fatally shooting Alexander Wroblewski in 2017, who was killed while walking home after his shift at The Rowhouse Grille in Federal Hill.