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Keith Davis Jr. sentenced to 50 years in prison in politically charged Baltimore murder case

Gloria Hill, the aunt who raised Kevin Jones, reacts to the sentencing of Keith Davis Jr.

Maintaining his innocence to the end, Keith Davis Jr. was sentenced Monday to 50 years in prison for gunning down a Pimlico security guard, in the conclusion to yet another trial in the years-long, politically charged murder case.

Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox took note of Davis’ many supporters but still handed down the maximum penalty under the law.

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“Two families are destroyed,” the judge told them all. "One being the victim’s, one being the defendant’s.”

Prosecutors tried Davis three times unsuccessfully for the 2015 murder of Kevin Jones before a new jury convicted him last summer of second-degree murder. His case became a rallying cry for social activists in Baltimore who have called on State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby to cease the repeated prosecutions.

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A slight man in eyeglasses, Davis spoke softly before his sentencing. He told the judge he was no killer.

“I am not the man I have been painted out to be,” he said. “A lot of these so-called facts about me aren’t facts at all.”

His public defender asked the judge to hand down 15 years; prosecutors and Jones’ family requested the maximum of 50.

In calling for the maximum penalty, Assistant State’s Attorney Patrick Seidel spared no grisly detail. A masked gunman stalked Jones, 22, while he walked to work and shot him 11 times, once through the top of his head. Another bullet blew out his teeth.

“He swallowed the bullet and we found it in his stomach,” Seidel told the judge.

He read aloud a letter from Jones’ aunt, the woman who raised him. Jones grew up among the drug corners and vacant houses of Park Heights. He began work as a teenager at nearby Pimlico Race Course. His aunt told the judge that she kept close watch of him, even dropping by school to make sure he was in class. Jones’ mother had died young.

“I made a promise to my sister, who I loved, that I would raise Kevin right and I would protect him,” Gloria Hill wrote. “I feel like I failed.”

Police and prosecutors offered no motive for the killing, and the prosecution of Davis hinged on circumstantial evidence.

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. His public defender argued that officers planted the gun to cover their tracks after shooting him.

Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi presented the defense theory that police chased Davis, mistakenly thought he was armed and opened fire. They shot at him 30 times, hitting him in his face, neck and arm. He was grievously wounded.

Police lab technicians testified that they found Davis’ fingerprints on the gun. Firearms analysts said they test-fired the weapon — a distinctive target pistol — and found it matched shell casings around Jones’ body. Levi dismissed the ballistics match as “junk science.”

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She showed the judge photos of Davis as a baby boy and young man, saying he had taken on the role of parent to his younger sister: cooking her dinner, walking her to the bus stop. She too insisted Davis was no killer.

“Mr. Davis is an innocent man,” she said. “He stands here today convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.”

Kelly Davis leads a protest outside City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office after her husband, Keith Davis, was sentenced to 50 years for murder.
Kelly Davis leads a protest outside City State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office after her husband, Keith Davis, was sentenced to 50 years for murder. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

Levi also argued for hours Friday and Monday that Davis deserves a new trial. She told the judge Seidel went too far in his closing arguments, misleading the jury and misstating the law. Cox denied her requests for a fifth trial, saying he found the evidence supported Seidel’s closing arguments. Levi pledged to appeal.

Mosby did not attend the sentencing hearing, but she issued a statement afterward.

“This case epitomizes my office’s perseverance and steadfast commitment to stay the course in the pursuit of justice for the Jones’ family in securing a lengthy sentence appropriately matched to this heinous and vile murder,” she wrote.

Over the years, Davis’ case has drawn widespread attention in Baltimore and beyond. His case has been explored in a true-crime podcast. A group of activists known as “Team Keith" have taken up his defense, holding marches and rallies in the street and poring over the evidence. They packed the courtroom and wrote enough letters of support to fill a booklet for the judge.

“It’s a campaign, and I’m asking your honor not to be swayed because they’re going to be the loudest voice in the courtroom,” Seidel said.

He said he investigated the case all over again while preparing for the fourth trial.

“Our original intention in this case was to prove Mr. Davis did not commit these crimes,” he said. “We did a fresh look on all this stuff, and what we ended up finding was more evidence of guilt.”

Three of Davis’ supporters told the judge they believe in his innocence. They described the case as an example of police brutality and asked Cox to “correct the injustice.”

The young sons of Davis’ wife described him as a supportive and doting father. His wife, Kelly Davis, said he called from prison to arrange boxing lessons when one of her boys was bullied at school.

Kelly Davis has emerged as a vocal critic of Mosby and fierce advocate for her husband. She started law school to “decrease the number of Keith Davis Juniors in this world," she told the judge.

While she addressed the court, she turned and stared down at Seidel, her voice firm.

“As long as there is breath in my body, I will continue to fight. I will continue to organize. I will continue to advocate, until my husband walks across the threshold of my home.”

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