A Baltimore judge sentenced Keon “Lips” Gray to 75 years in prison Friday for murdering little Taylor Hayes, and she had sharp words for the man who waged a brazen gun battle in the streets.
“He made the streets of Baltimore a killing zone," Circuit Judge Althea Handy said.
Gray shot the 7-year-old girl through her back and killed her in July 2018. Taylor’s death shocked the city’s conscience, showing that the siege of gun violence could claim even a child riding in her godmother’s Honda. Prosecutors asked the judge to hand down 165 years, the toughest possible sentence. They asked her to send a message to the streets.
“This is akin to an epidemic. This is akin to a disease that is plaguing the city,” Assistant State’s Attorney Charles Blomquist told the judge. “One heinous crime is simply topped or displaced by another one. The city was, for a moment, given pause for Taylor Hayes.”
Jurors deliberated two days in August before convicting Gray, 31, of West Baltimore, of second-degree murder, assault and gun charges. They found he fired the deadly bullet while shooting at two people in the car, Taylor’s godmother, Darnell Holmes, and a passenger, Malik Edison, who was shooting back. A second little girl sat beside Taylor in the back seat; she was unharmed.
The trial revealed the shootout began with a minor traffic accident between drivers Gray and Holmes. Witnesses testified to seeing a man in a white Mercedes argue with Taylor’s godmother on Edmondson Avenue moments before the two cars sped off. Then gunfire erupted.
Prosecutors said Edison fired 19 times; Gray shot twice. Edison pleaded guilty to gun and drug charges; he’s scheduled for sentencing in December.
The fatal bullet ripped through the trunk of the Honda before striking Taylor. Police arrested Gray about a month later at an Anne Arundel County motel. He has a record of arrests for drugs, assault and eluding police, prosecutors told the judge.
The barrage of gun violence only continues in the city, said Blomquist, noting the sad similarity to an attack last Saturday in which a 2-year-old boy was shot in West Baltimore during an incident of road rage.
“Enough is enough. We cannot survive if this is the way our disputes, our arguments, our distresses are resolved,” he told the court. “He traumatized the city; Mr. Gray needs to be punished.”
Gray’s two-week, August trial brought no shortage of drama. One juror wrote the judge saying they had been contacted on Facebook by Taylor’s godmother. That note drew concerns about the chance of jury intimidation and led Handy to pause proceedings and question each juror at the bench.
Other jurors said people in the gallery had called out to them in the hallways of the courthouse. The judge ordered sheriff’s deputies to escort the jury out before releasing the public.
On the opening day of trial, Taylor’s mother, Shanika Robinson, was arrested outside the courtroom on a warrant from Frederick County. She was wanted there for allegedly violating her probation in a misdemeanor theft case. Robinson returned to watch the trial two days later.
Meanwhile, Gray’s prominent defense attorney, Ken Ravenell, was indicted last month of federal conspiracy charges of racketeering, money laundering and drug distribution. The charges stem from his work defending a marijuana kingpin five years ago. He pleaded not guilty Wednesday, and has declined to discuss the case.
A judge found Ravenell may continue to practice law while his case proceeds, but he must tell his clients. Assistant State’s Attorney Matthew Pillion tried to bring up the matter at the sentencing hearing Friday.
“Mr. Gray, in a series of phone calls post-trial, did express concern about the optics of Mr. Ravenell continuing to represent him —”
“You’re honor,” Ravenell interjected, “May we approach?”
They discussed the matter in a private at the bench. Then Ravenell argued for more than an hour that Gray deserves a new trial. The judge turned him down; Ravenell said he will appeal.
Gray’s family and friends attended the hearing, but none addressed the judge on his behalf. Ravenell submitted their letters to the judge. Gray himself declined a chance to speak.
Ravenell asked the judge to keep in mind the results of a psychiatric exam in prison. He told the judge Gray scored in the bottom 1 percent on intellectual tests of problem solving. The defense attorney also urged the judge not to hold Gray responsible for all the city’s troubles.
“The ills of Baltimore City, they don’t fall on the head of a 31-year-old man,” Ravenell told her.
Last summer, the little girl’s death renewed calls for peace across Baltimore. In the days afterward, mourners declared themselves the “Taylor Gang.” They wore white headbands and cried before a casket 4 ½ feet long. They held a “Pizza Party for Peace.”
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Baltimore’s gun violence has only worsened. By Friday, police reported 275 homicides this year, a 9 percent increase over this time last year. They reported 642 non-fatal shootings, a 19 percent increase.
State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby issued a statement Friday calling Gray’s case a warning to other criminals.
“For those who think they can take a life without any repercussions, let today serve as a reminder that we will be relentless in our efforts to effectively prosecute these cases and recommend the stiffest possible sentences,” she wrote.
Taylor’s mother spoke briefly at the hearing, telling the judge of her continued anguish.
“I watched Taylor fight for her life for two weeks, surgery after surgery,” Robinson said. “Nobody understands what he has done to me.”
Then, the courtroom was hushed and the judge handed down her sentence. Robinson was impassive.
Gray showed no emotion himself, nodding to his crying mother as deputies led him out in shackles.