A Baltimore jury found Keon Gray guilty Wednesday of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 7-year-old Taylor Hayes, the little girl whose death last summer put a child’s face on the crisis of gun violence in Baltimore.
The jury deliberated two days before convicting Gray, 30, of West Baltimore. When the guilty verdict came, Taylor’s mother, Shanika Robinson, burst into tears. She dropped to the floor in the courtroom and family members rushed over to hold her.
Gray also was found guilty of first-degree assault against the two adults in the car with Taylor last summer: Darnell Holmes, the child’s godmother, and Malik Edison. Gray was convicted of gun charges, too.
Under state law, second-degree murder does not require premeditation.
“This is a very difficult day for Mr. Gray, who continues to profess his innocence," said Ken Ravenell, Gray’s defense attorney, in a statement. “I fear this was a compromised verdict. We vow to continue the fight."
Ravenell did not elaborate on his statement.
The jury found Gray fatally shot Taylor on July 5, 2018. She died at the hospital two weeks later. Outside the courthouse Wednesday, one of Taylor’s aunts pulled up in a van and called out “Justice for Taylor! Justice for Taylor!”
Her T-shirt showed the 7-year-old smiling with angel wings. She was overcome.
“In the name of Jesus, I’m so glad,” she called out.
Taylor’s family — aunts, uncles, cousins — held each other on the street. They declined to give their names. One uncle wore a white headband with “Taylor” printed on it. He urged the crowd, “Please, keep the guns down.”
“She was 7 years old, she didn’t have her first dance,” said the girlfriend of Taylor’s father. “She didn’t get to do anything.”
Lisa Molock, a friend of Taylor’s mother, felt grateful the emotional trial was over.
“Her mother had been dragged through the dirt from all this," she said.
Robinson rushed off after the verdict and declined to comment later, saying she was too emotional.
Last summer, the little girl’s death renewed calls for peace across Baltimore. City leaders and activists yet again decried the escalation of violence in the city.
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.”
The verdict brings an end to the two-week murder trial in Baltimore Circuit Court with no shortage of twists.
The trial began with sheriff’s deputies waiting for Robinson, arresting her outside the courtroom on a warrant from Frederick County. She was wanted for allegedly violating her probation in a misdemeanor theft case there. Robinson returned to watch the trial two days later.
Last week, a state witness gasped and testified that photos of the white Mercedes-Benz that had Gray’s DNA did not show the same white Mercedes she had seen near the crime scene.
“That’s not the car,” she insisted.
Further, Baltimore Circuit Judge Althea Handy read to jurors a statement agreed to by prosecutors and defense attorneys stating the lead detective, Kevin Brown, had changed his testimony.
Taylor was fatally shot during a gun battle in the streets of West Baltimore. Prosecutors said Gray was driving a Mercedes when he engaged in a wild shootout with a man riding in a Honda Accord. Taylor sat in the backseat of the Honda.
“She dies because of that man’s actions,” said Assistant State’s Attorney Charles Blomquist, pointing across the courtroom to Gray.
Ravenell argued that detectives prematurely decided Gray was the killer. Officers had received tips about three other suspects.
The jury began deliberating Tuesday morning. By Wednesday, they appeared conflicted.
“What happens if we cannot come to a unanimous decision?” they asked the judge. She read their note aloud in court.
The case against Gray hinged on whether the jury believed there were two white Mercedes spotted in West Baltimore at the time of the shooting — one driven by the killer; another found with Gray’s DNA — or if in fact they were the same car. Prosecutors built their case on the Mercedes.
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.
Police arrested Gray — known as “Lips” — about a month later at an Anne Arundel County motel. They charged him with 32 counts including the murder of Taylor, gun charges and reckless endangerment.
Twenty-one shell casings were found in the street. Prosecutors said Edison fired 19 times from the Honda; Gray shot twice. Edison, faces his own gun charges. He’s scheduled for trial in October.
A .40 caliber bullet ripped through the trunk of the Honda and hit Taylor in her back.
“Spinal cord, aorta, diaphragm, esophagus, liver,” Dr. Diana Nointon testified Aug. 5, describing the girl’s injuries to the jury.
Robinson, Taylor’s mother, listened with her head bowed. Family members huddled around her, one of whom held a box of tissues. Then jurors saw the autopsy photos.
They saw a close-up of Taylor’s face — her hair neatly in two buns, fixed by bright pink ties.
The grieving mother covered her mouth to prevent a cry from pouring out. When the next photo appeared — of the wound in her daughter’s back — she rushed out of the courtroom. Blomquist, the prosecutor, continued his questions as Robinson’s cries echoed in the hallway.
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Baltimore Police Sgt. Steven Reed told the jury of the wrenching moments when he ran up and found the little girl slumped across the backseat. Jurors watched his body camera video. They heard him pleading for some sign of life.
“Oh my God,” he cried. “Come on baby girl! … Help!”
The child became one of the youngest victims of the gun violence that has gripped Baltimore in recent years. More than 300 people have been killed in each of the past four years and the city is on pace to pass that mark yet again in 2019.
The break in the case came when detectives learned a white Mercedes, similar to the one described by witnesses, crashed a mile away shortly after the shooting. Prosecutors introduced evidence that showed Gray’s DNA on the airbag of the damaged car. They said his cellphone was traced to the crime scene. Gray did not testify during his trial.
Diamond Lucas, Gray’s former girlfriend, testified Aug. 5 that when Gray returned from vacation, she asked if he heard about the little girl. Gray replied, “yeah it’s sad,” she told the jury.
On the final day of the trial, prosecutors showed video footage of Taylor, her friend and godmother shortly before the shooting. As they left Walgreens, Taylor skipped through the rain.
Jurors watched them heading to the car. The footage faded to black.