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Alleged Royal Farms Arena gunman had earlier shooting conviction overturned

The attack was brazen and chilling, even for Baltimore. A young man gunned down against the walls of the Royal Farms Arena, at lunchtime, in the heart of downtown.

Three weeks later, police announced Friday they had arrested the gunman: Calvin Matthews Stevens, a 28-year-old who has been in and out of jail since his teenage years.

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Stevens had pleaded guilty in a previous shooting attack. He has a history of gun charges and, according to court records, admitted to joining the Crips street gang while in high school. In one of his earliest criminal cases, he allegedly helped bash in a man’s teeth with a chunk of concrete.

It’s the sort of criminal record that state and city leaders have been calling attention to as they try to rein in the gun violence that continues to grip Baltimore. Gov. Larry Hogan has labeled the courts a revolving door for criminals.

More than 1,000 people were shot in Baltimore last year, 348 of them died. The pace of the killings has only continued this year.

Police commanders and Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young have blamed the violence — Baltimore suffered more than 300 killings in each of the past five years — on a small portion of city residents, a few repeat violent offenders. And as the 2020 General Assembly session advances, lawmakers have proposed a host of reforms to toughen penalties.

In his “State of the State” speech, Hogan said nothing is as important as stopping the “out-of-control violent crime, the shootings, and murders that are destroying Baltimore.”

On Friday, Young and Police Commissioner Michael Harrison identified Stevens as the shooter outside the arena last month, but they provided few details. They offered no motive for the killing of Khari Johnson, 20, of Gwynn Oak.

"It’s likely that the perpetrator knew the victim,” Harrison said.

Stevens did not have an attorney listed in court records Friday.

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His run-ins with police stretch back to October 2008, when Stevens and another teen allegedly robbed a man of his motor scooter in South Baltimore, according to court records. They jumped the man near a gas station and knocked him off the scooter, police wrote in charging documents.

Officers accused the other boy of bashing in the man’s teeth with a piece of concrete curb. The other boy blamed Stevens for the attack, according to court records. They charged Stevens with assault and attempted armed robbery, but the case was moved to juvenile court where the record is sealed.

One week later, Stevens and two other boys allegedly jumped a classmate at Mergenthaler Vocational Technical High School. The victim suffered a broken nose and required plastic surgery. Stevens was charged with assault, but that case also was moved to juvenile court.

Stevens told authorities he was raised by his mother and stepfather in a stable home, but he had joined the Crips in high school, according to court records.

His troubles escalated in June 2010 when police charged Stevens and his brother with shooting a man in Southwest Baltimore near Cherry Hill. Police found the man shot twice in his chest. He was hospitalized in critical condition.

Calvin Stevens and his brother went to confront the man over the loaned MP3 player, police wrote in charging documents.

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“As the argument escalated,” they wrote, “Calvin was heard saying, ‘You think we’re playing?’ and ‘amp it up!'”

Police charged Stevens’ brother as the trigger man and wrote that he missed his target and instead shot the man’s cousin. The cousin survived.

They charged Calvin Stevens with conspiracy to commit murder. He pleaded guilty to the conspiracy charge and gun charges in March 2012 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison and five years of probation.

One year later, however, Stevens petitioned for a judge to review his case on the grounds that he had suffered from ineffective assistance of his defense attorney. Prosecutors opposed his petition.

Circuit Judge Althea Handy took up the matter and found that his defense attorney had failed him. That’s because his attorney failed to take note that Steven’s brother had missed his target and shot the man’s cousin. Stevens had pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to shoot the man, but the cousin was not the intended victim.

Handy found that Stevens pleaded guilty without understanding the willful element of the conspiracy crime.

“At trial, petitioner’s counsel could have argued that the shooting was neither willful, deliberate nor premeditated … as he was not the target,” she wrote in her opinion.

If he understood the elements, the judge found, he likely would have proceeded to trial. She threw out his conviction. Prosecutors tried him again.

His defense attorney at the retrial in September 2018 recalled inconsistent testimony from witnesses.

“At that point, it might have been seven or eight years. That’s a long time for the state to gather witnesses,” Phillip Levin, his defense attorney, said Friday. “I’m sure it was tough for the state.”

The jury acquitted him of all charges.

“While our attorneys made every effort to prosecute this case, the jury found him not guilty despite both an uncooperative witness and massive delay by the court in scheduling the actual trial,” said Zy Richardson, spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office.

With the latest case against Stevens, police say they have arrested 15 people for murder this year. The department closed 2019 with a clearance rate of just 32% — one of the lowest in three decades.

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