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Crime

Keith Davis Jr.’s fifth murder trial would happen in Baltimore courtroom, as judge rejects prosecutors’ request to move it outside city

If Keith Davis Jr. is tried on the same murder charge for the fifth time, the trial will take place in a Baltimore courtroom.

Baltimore Circuit Court Judge John Nugent denied prosecutors’ request to have murder case against Davis and a separate attempted murder case moved to another county.

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Prosecutors contended that extensive pretrial publicity, highlighted by the escalating campaign pushing for State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to drop charges against Davis, would make it impossible to seat a jury or for the state to receive a fair trial in Baltimore.

Usually, it’s the defense that asks for a change of venue, but prosecutors argued that the tweets, mobile billboards, news articles and protests left them no choice but to ask, Deputy State’s Attorney Noelle Newman said. She argued that the media coverage and internet discussions were one-sided, misleading and so prevalent that the jury selection process wouldn’t identify impartial jurors.

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Nugent disagreed, citing the fact that the attorneys were able to seat juries in each of Davis’ previous trials. Moreover, he said Mosby’s office and the state’s attorney herself bears some blame for the pretrial publicity.

While Newman was reading aloud several inflammatory tweets from Davis’ supporters, Nugent challenged her about the role of the state’s attorney’s office and Mosby role in creating publicity about the case. The judge referred to an interaction where Mosby flashed the middle finger at a Davis supporter, and subsequent comments Mosby made on a radio show about the case.

Newman blamed the Davis supporter and said his public defense campaign used the interaction as fuel.

“What about lying about it?” asked Nugent, referring to Mosby’s office originally denying she made the obscene gesture.

He suggested her actions likely prompted more media coverage.

“This case will remain in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City,” ruled Nugent, adding that Davis deserved to have city residents decide his fate.

Much of the prosecution’s argument focused on comments on Twitter made by Davis’ wife, Kelly, and the campaign launched by activist DeRay Mckesson to spread word about Davis’ legal saga and, in his and other supporters’ opinions, innocence.

Newman showed screenshots of what she called inflammatory tweets and excerpts from a website created by Mckesson’s nonprofit, Campaign Zero.

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Public defender Deborah Katz Levi argued the prosecutors failed to meet their burden of proving pretrial publicity is so substantial and prejudicial that the state could not possibly receive a fair trial.

“Just because something exists in the world does not equate to prejudice,” Levi said of the widespread information about Davis’ case. “What I’m hearing today is the state say they don’t like it, they don’t like the negative attention.”

She said it’s not surprising that there would be heightened public interest in the case of a man who has been tried so many times — five trials, including on robbery charges stemming from an incident that occurred the same morning Pimlico Race Course security guard Kevin Jones was fatally shot.

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Jones was gunned down early in the morning of June 7, 2015. Davis was charged with murder about nine months after the shooting, and after he was acquitted of the alleged robbery.

Suspecting him of a robbery that day, Baltimore police chased Davis into an auto garage and opened fire. They fired 32 rounds, striking Davis three times and seriously injuring him. Police said they thought Davis was armed, and that they recovered a handgun from inside the garage. It was the first city police shooting after the death of Freddie Gray from injuries suffered in police custody roiled the city two months earlier.

Davis’ murder trials went like this: His first, in 2017, resulted in a hung jury. The same year, a second trial brought a conviction that was overturned when a judge determined prosecutors withheld information from his defense. A jury deadlocked on Davis’ third murder trial. His fourth, in 2019, led to a conviction, but it was again overturned.

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Mosby’s charged Davis with attempted murder in May of 2021, about two weeks after a judge threw out his 2019 murder conviction, and about a month after an alleged prison fight where someone was stabbed.

Prosecutors resolved to try him again in Jones’ murder.

The attorneys said in court Monday that Davis’ trial likely would happen in 2023. However, after a bench conference, prosecutors were asked to check with Jones’ family about a “counteroffer” from Davis’ defense, suggesting plea negotiations are ongoing.

Davis rejected a plea offer in December that would’ve seen him serve 15 years in prison.


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