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Top 10 Baltimore-area trials to watch in 2020

Keith and Valeria Smith returned to Baltimore in the custody of the Baltimore Police Department's Warrant Apprehension Task Force early Thursday morning. (Baltimore Police video)

One of the most anticipated days in court in 2020 will come when Baltimore’s former mayor is sentenced for conspiracy crimes and tax evasion. Then the following months will bring many high profile trials to the area. One man is to stand trial for the Capital Gazette newspaper murders. Another for allegedly murdering his wife and blaming a panhandler. There’s a drug conspiracy case against one of Baltimore’s foremost defense attorneys. As 2020 begins, here are some of the biggest trials of the year.

All dates are tentative. Case could be postponed; defendants could plead guilty; prosecutors could drop charges.

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Parkville man accused of gunning down teacher’s aide mistaken for federal witness

In May 2016, teacher’s aide Latrina Ashburne was shot and killed outside her North Baltimore home. Police came to believe she had been mistaken for a witness and gunned down in an attempt at retaliation. Federal prosecutors charged Davon Carter, of Parkville, with conspiracy to murder a witness. The prosecutors later charged a second man, Clifton Mosley, in the case. Questions continue to surround the case as it has dragged on for more than three years. Carter and Mosley are scheduled for trial Jan. 6.

Two to stand trial for attempted murder of off-duty Sgt. Carrington

Baltimore Police Sgt. Isaac Carrington stood outside his home last summer chatting with a neighbor when two masked gunmen pulled up and announced a robbery. One of them chased Carrington and shot him multiple times. The 22-year veteran of the force was hospitalized in critical condition. A month later, police arrested two men and charged them with attempted murder: Karon Foster, 25, and Rashaud Nesmith, 18. A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney’s office says the case is pending against Foster, though his charges don’t appear in online court records. They are scheduled for trial Jan. 27. Carrington, meanwhile, has been released from the hospital.

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Mayor Pugh faces federal prison in “Healthy Holly” scandal

The “Healthy Holly” book scandal culminated last month with disgraced ex-mayor Catherine Pugh pleading guilty to conspiracy crimes and tax evasion. A federal investigation had found Pugh’s self-publishing enterprise amounted to little more than a criminal racket. The prosecutors found Pugh had persuaded some of wealthiest, most powerful organizations in Baltimore to pay her hundreds of thousands of dollars for her clumsily written children’s books. In some cases, she was double-selling the books, they said. Federal sentencing guidelines recommend she serve five years. Pugh is scheduled to be sentenced Feb. 27.

Keith Davis Jr. to be sentenced after fourth murder trial brings conviction

In a contentious, fourth murder trial, Keith Davis Jr. was convicted of gunning down a Pimlico security guard in 2015. Twice before juries had deadlocked over his fate. And once, a judge had overturned his conviction. Over the four years, his case became a political flashpoint, fueling debate and protests in the street. A devoted group of his supporters demanded city leaders end the repeated prosecutions. Jurors, meanwhile, debated less than one full day before finding him guilty of second-degree murder. Davis faces as much as 50 years in prison; he’s scheduled for sentencing Feb. 28.

Ramos admits to murdering journalists in Capital-Gazette newspaper attack, but claims insanity

Harboring a resentment over an old newspaper column, Jarrod Ramos blasted his way into the Capital-Gazette newsroom last year and killed five people. He admitted as much in October, pleading guilty to murdering Gerald Fischman, Rob Hiaasen, Rebecca Smith, Wendi Winters and John McNamara. Still, the 39-year-old Laurel man admitted guilt under Maryland’s version of the insanity plea. This sets the stage for a jury trial to determine whether Ramos serves time in a state prison or secure psychiatric hospital. His trial is to begin March 4 in Anne Arundel Circuit Court.

Lawrence Banks, once imprisoned for killing his son, accused in grown daughter’s gruesome death

Police made the gruesome discovery last spring in a dumpster in Northwest Baltimore. Among the garbage was a woman’s dismembered body. Over the next weeks, detectives identified her as a 43-year-old mother of six and came to believe her father, Lawrence Banks, had murdered her. Banks, 66, has a troubling history.

Lawrence Banks, 65, is awaiting trial on charges he murdered and dismembered his daughter.
Lawrence Banks, 65, is awaiting trial on charges he murdered and dismembered his daughter. (Handout / HANDOUT)

He threw the same daughter through a glass door when she was a baby around Christmas 1975, according to court records. In 1991, he killed his 17-year-old son and gunned down a friend, serving only a decade in prison after being awarded credit for good behavior, according to court records. Family members said they have long feared him. Banks is scheduled to stand trial for murder on March 16.

Husband to be tried for wife’s murder in so-called ‘panhandler killing’

The deadly attack on Jacquelyn Smith shocked people around the country when her husband announced, tearfully, that she had been stabbed by a panhandler during an act of charity. Celebrity Oprah Winfrey wrote online that she would think twice before giving to a panhandler again. Behind the scenes, however, detectives were growing increasingly suspicious of the husband’s story. They arrested Keith Smith and his grown daughter Valeria three months later and charged them with murder. The pair had made off for Mexico; they were nabbed 20 miles from the border. In September, Valeria Smith pleaded guilty to acting as an accessory after the murder. Keith Smith is scheduled to stand trial April 20.

Maryland secretary of Information Technology indicted on bribery charges

More than two years ago, federal prosecutors indicted a former Cabinet secretary in Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration on bribery charges involving millions of dollars’ worth of state contracts. The case has proceeded slowly against Isabel FitzGerald, secretary of Department of Information Technology in 2013 and 2014, but she’s scheduled to stand trial May 4. The Annapolis woman is accused of pressuring a company, which had state contracts worth almost $360 million, to subcontract with an Indiana technology firm. In turn, FitzGerald and a man with whom she is described in the indictment as having a personal relationship are accused of taking one-third of the profits the subcontractor made in these deals. Her trial is scheduled for May 4.

Top defense Baltimore attorney allegedly in cahoots with marijuana kingpin

Baltimore’s legal community was rocked in September when federal prosecutors indicted prominent defense attorney Ken Ravenell on charges of a racketeering, money laundering and drug conspiracy The allegations center on the years of 2009 to 2014, during which he worked for the prestigious law firm of William “Billy” Murphy Jr. and defended Jamaican national kingpin Richard Byrd.

Lawyer Kenneth Ravenell faces a federal trial on charges he helped a drug kingpin evade justice.
Lawyer Kenneth Ravenell faces a federal trial on charges he helped a drug kingpin evade justice. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Federal prosecutors are accusing Ravenell of coaching Byrd and others in the drug crew on how to continue their crimes undetected. Ravenell routinely handles high-profile murder cases in Baltimore and last August he defended the West Baltimore man who shot and killed 7-year-old Taylor Hayes. His trial is scheduled for April 13.

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Sgt. Ethan Newberg indicted on 32 more counts in alleged ‘pattern of harassment’

Baltimore Police release the body camera footage of a second officer in Sgt. Ethan Newberg arrest of a bystander.

Veteran Baltimore police Sgt. Ethan Newberg already faced charges for forcibly arresting a bystander last May when prosecutors announced 32 more criminal charges against him, including false imprisonment, assault and misconduct. A review of his body camera footage, prosecutors said, revealed a “pattern of harassment and intimidation.” Newberg was the second-highest-paid city employee in fiscal year 2018, making $243,000 through overtime. He’s the latest police officer to be charged by State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, who has pledged to root out police misconduct. Newberg is scheduled for trial April 21.

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