A Baltimore jury found Keith Davis Jr. guilty Friday of murdering a Pimlico security guard in 2015, ending a contentious fourth trial in the case that has gripped the city, fueled political debate and incited protests in the streets.
Jurors deliberated less than one full day before finding Davis guilty of second-degree murder for gunning down Kevin Jones, 22, in the racetrack parking lot. A series of prosecutions against the 27-year-old Davis — in May 2017, October 2017 and June 2018 — have made him a political flashpoint. Twice, juries deadlocked over his fate. Once, a judge overturned his conviction.
Around noon Friday, jurors handed down a note saying they had reached a verdict. Assistant Public Defender Deborah Levi walked in and clasped hands with Davis’ wife. They bowed heads. Patrick Seidel, the prosecutor, rested his hand on the shoulder of Jones’ mother. When the guilty verdict was read, there were gasps in the courtroom.
Davis showed no reaction. He faces 50 years in prison and is scheduled for sentencing in November.
“We’re not giving up, and we don’t think justice was done today,” Levi said, walking out. She has pledged to appeal.
During trial, Levi invoked the death of Freddie Gray and the rogue Gun Trace Task Force, betting jurors would be distrustful of police testimony in this climate after the Baltimore police scandals. She had presented a defense theory that Davis was framed for the murder by crooked cops. The jury was unconvinced.
Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby issued a statement after the verdict.
"This case has been — and was always — about the pursuit of justice for Kevin Jones,” she wrote. “I truly hope Kevin’s loved ones can finally close this gruesome chapter of grief and find their path to healing.”
“This case has been — and was always — about the pursuit of justice for Kevin Jones.”— Baltimore State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby
Outside the courthouse, Davis’ supporters gathered to chant in the street. He was led out in shackles and driven off to prison.
“Drop ... the ... charges!" they shouted. "Free ... Keith ... Davis!”
His wife, Kelly Davis, has emerged as a vocal critic of Mosby and demanded the top prosecutor finally give up the case. She was undaunted by the verdict.
“We will just do this again. The truth is on his side,” she said. “This does not deter me. This does not devastate me. It does nothing but make the fire in me burn hotter.”
Kelly Davis and supporters have confronted Mosby in public. Their calls of “Free Keith Davis!” have become a rallying cry for Baltimore activists. Meanwhile, Mosby’s political rivals criticized her over the case in the runup to last year’s primary election.
To the activists, the case spotlights dirty cops who victimize young black men and prosecutors who railroad them into criminal convictions. Their efforts helped draw attention to the case from outside Baltimore. Podcasts and national newspapers have explored the story. During trial, Davis’ supporters packed one side of the courtroom, sitting directly behind him. They waved him off at the end of each day.
[The verdict] does nothing but make the fire in me burn hotter.— Kelly Davis, wife of Keith Davis Jr.
“Love you, guys!” he would call back.
His trial attorneys benefited from the work of “Team Keith." Levi credited them with turning up new evidence. Among them, Amelia McDonell-Parry scrutinized the case on her podcast “Undisclosed.”
“The jury was not only not told all the facts, but they were lied to, over and over again, by the prosecutors in this case, and by the lead detective," she said.
She called the prosecution a “sham.” Walking out of the courtroom, she paused to address Mosby’s chief deputy, Michael Schatzow. “Monster,” she called him.
Schatzow laughed. He walked up to shake hands with the prosecutors.
Outside the courthouse, the chants gradually changed to “Mosby lies!”
Davis was also convicted of using a firearm in a violent crime. He had rejected a plea deal of 30 years in prison with 20 additional years if he broke terms of his release. He has maintained his innocence.
A slim man, Davis has lived in Howard County and Baltimore, and he has worked for a food distributor, supplying meals for schools and camps. Now, he has a scar across his cheek where police shot him four years ago. As Levi described it to the jury, "he had his face blown off.”
It all began in June 2015, around 4:45 a.m., when Kevin Jones walked to work at Pimlico Race Course. That particular morning, the security guard was trailed by a masked gunman. Surveillance cameras captured the killer stalking Jones as he walked in the dark, empty track parking lot.
The gunman shot Jones 11 times. When prosecutors described the wounds, Jones’ distraught mother had to leave the courtroom. One bullet blew out his two front teeth. Medical examiners found he swallowed it. The gunman had shot him in the face.
“He’s getting shot in the back while he’s on the ground — that’s just wrong,” Seidel told the jury.
Detectives found no video footage of the shooting, nor witnesses. But tiny, brass shell casings lay scattered around Jones’ body,
About four hours later, police were a half-mile away writing up a report for a car crash. One officer testified that he was flagged down by a driver and told Davis had a gun. Police chased Davis down the street and through alleys, cornering him in a mechanic’s garage. Carrying shields, they entered and confronted him.
Police fired at least 33 rounds at him; Davis hid behind a refrigerator. One bullet punched through Davis’ cheek, and he was grievously wounded.
“He stood up and placed the gun on top of the refrigerator,” Eskins testified. “I saw blood coming from his face.”
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.
Detectives studied surveillance camera footage of the masked gunman. They said the shooter’s distressed designer jeans and black-and-white sneakers exactly matched clothes Davis wore hours later. Furthermore, they said, a cellphone tower near the racetrack detected Davis’ phone in the early hour of the murder. Prosecutors tried Davis on this evidence.
His defense attorneys presented their own explanation, telling jurors police mistakenly thought Davis had a gun and gave chase. Only after shooting him, officers discovered their mistake, the defense alleged.
In those weeks after the death of Freddie Gray, the city was a powder keg, they said. Levi said officers planted the pistol on Davis as cover.
During trial, she brought out inconsistencies in the evidence. The lab technicians detected no gunshot residue in the barrel of the pistol purportedly used to shoot Jones. They test-fired the weapon, but shell casings from the experiment are missing. They found none of Jones’ blood on the clothes Davis wore. They noted inconsistencies in the reports. Dates and times didn’t add up, Levi told the jury.
Baltimore Police Det. Mark Veney investigated Jones’ killing, but he pocketed two of the victim’s cellphones. Veney testified that he didn’t submit the phones as evidence for 11 months. He said they held no clues.
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The defense attorneys hammered him over this decision. They accused him of hiding clues to the real killer.
“Why in God’s green Earth did he hold onto those phones?” Levi asked the jury.
On Wednesday, she presented jurors with Ronald Gorman, a gun collector. State records list him as the owner of the purported murder weapon.
Gorman said he thought he had sold his Hammerli target pistol on consignment at least a decade ago. He couldn’t explain why state records still list him as the owner.
He said it was a long time ago, but he probably consigned the gun at either Otto’s Police Supply or Barts Sports World. Both shops, he said, cater to police officers.
Seidel dismissed as a distraction the defense theory of a conspiracy by police.
“When the evidence hurts the case,” he told jurors, “you start to manufacture drama.”