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Defense argues Keith Davis Jr. deserves new trial in politically charged murder case

Keith Davis Jr. is escorted from the courthouse last year after being found guilty of gunning down a security guard in 2015, ending the fourth trial in a case that has brought two mistrials, an overturned conviction and national attention. He is scheduled to be sentenced by a judge this morning.
Keith Davis Jr. is escorted from the courthouse last year after being found guilty of gunning down a security guard in 2015, ending the fourth trial in a case that has brought two mistrials, an overturned conviction and national attention. He is scheduled to be sentenced by a judge this morning. (Xavier Plater / Baltimore Sun)

A Baltimore judge broke off arguments Friday on whether Keith Davis Jr. deserves a new trial for the 2015 murder of a Pimlico security guard.

Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox ordered everyone back Monday, but gave no explanation. Davis’ wife, Kelly, wrote online that her husband had suffered an asthma attack.

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“Further proof he needs to be home obtaining medical treatment instead of maliciously prosecuted,” she wrote.

The postponement sets the stage for a decision Monday on whether the 28-year-old will be sentenced for murder or stand trial for a fifth time. The politically charged case has become a rallying cry for social activists in Baltimore. Friday’s crowd filled the courtroom to capacity.

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Prosecutors have tried Davis four times for the murder of Kevin Jones. After two mistrials and one reversed conviction, a new jury found Davis guilty last summer of second-degree murder. He faces as much as 50 years in prison.

Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi argued for nearly three hours Friday that Davis deserves a new trial. She focused on closing arguments made at trial, saying prosecutors misled the jury and misstated the law.

During trial, Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel explained to jurors the legal principle of “presumption of innocence." He told them the principle doesn’t mean Davis is innocent, but that he is assumed not guilty.

On Friday, Levi seized on his words.

“The prosecutor, for lack of a better word, bastardized the presumption of innocence,” she told the judge.

Then she called forensic examiner Karl Reich of Chicago, who disputed assertions by Seidel that there would not have been DNA evidence at the crime scene. She argued that the nickname “Mr. Howard County” denigrated Davis and inflamed passions of the jury to defend the city from outside criminals.

The judge gave no indication if he was persuaded.

The case has become a flashpoint in discussions over crime and policing in Baltimore. While activists shouted “Free Keith Davis!" State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby pressed on with the case.

“This case has been — and was always — about the pursuit of justice for Kevin Jones,” she said after the verdict.

Keith Davis’ wife has emerged as a vocal critic of Mosby. She has marched in the streets with her supporters. They have pored over the evidence and recorded a true-crime podcast to examine the case. They hold up Keith Davis as an example of an unjust system, one where cops victimize young black men and prosecutors railroad them into criminal convictions.

Inside the courtroom, however, the jury deliberated less than one full day before concluding that Davis stalked Jones in the racetrack parking lot and gunned him down in the early morning. The killer shot Jones 11 times, even once in the face.

“For all the controversy, for all the questions, for all the reasonable doubt that people in this room seem to think exists, the jury came back so quickly,” Seidel told the judge Friday.

During trial, prosecutors played surveillance footage of the gunman trailing Jones and wearing a distinctive pair of designer jeans. The same jeans, they said, police found on Davis.

Sgt. Lane Eskins testified to seeing a man run from a car with a handgun later that morning. Eskins said he chased the man into a mechanic’s garage and faced the barrel of a pistol.

Police shot and grievously wounded Davis inside the garage. One bullet blew through Davis’ cheek before he surrendered, Eskins told the jury.

Police lab technicians testified to matching the pistol with shell casings around Jones’ body. They testified to finding Davis’ fingerprints on the pistol.

Davis was also convicted on testimony that his black-and-white sneakers matched those worn by the killer in the surveillance video. Detectives said a cellphone tower near the track detected Davis’ phone around the time of the killing.

The defense theory suggested police shot Davis but found him unarmed so they planted the murder weapon as cover. Levi asked jurors why the lead detective failed for months to submit two of Jones’ cellphones as evidence.

The jury convicted Davis of second-degree murder and one gun charge. They acquitted him of the most serious charge, murder in the first degree.

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