The attorney for Keith Davis Jr. plans to appeal his conviction last week for second degree murder in the shooting death of a Pimlico Race Course security guard, raising questions about the reliability of what she called an 11th hour witness against her client.
“The court just did not provide the defense with sufficient time to investigate this guy, and the state purposefully downplayed how bad he was,” said defense attorney Latoya Francis-Williams.
The witness was a jailhouse informant who claimed the defendant had bragged about the murder to him in a letter to authorities just weeks before the re-trial of Davis. An earlier trial ended in a hung jury.
David Gutierrez, a federal inmate from Texas who was recently moved to a Maryland prison, said Davis told him how he killed Kevin Jones. Gutierrez wanted to trade the information for time off his sentence.
Gutierrez, 40, was convicted in a Dallas federal court in 2008 for being part of the “Texas Syndicate” gang and helping carry out a murder, and was sentenced to 25 years.
“He's not credible on his face,” Francis-Williams said. “But to know how bad he really is, and the state really downplayed it, it’s reprehensible.”
In response, Melba Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office said: “The witness information was properly disclosed ahead of trial and we sought and obtained justice for Kevin Jones and his family all within the confines of the law.”
Gutierrez testified that he had been in the state prisons system for about 10 months. He was part of a program Maryland participates in to swap inmates “for the purposes of safety and security,” said Gerard Shields, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services.
There currently are only 15 federal inmates being held in the state prison system, Shields said. On Tuesday, Shields said Gutierrez is no longer being held in Maryland.
Before the new witness emerged, the case against Davis hinged on cell phone location records and firearms analysis. There were no eyewitnesses to the killing, and no known connection between the Davis and Jones, though phone records showed him in the general area.
About four hours after Jones’ shooting, police chased Davis, whom they suspected of robbing a cab driver, into a Northwest Baltimore garage, where he was shot multiple times. Police recovered a gun with Davis’ palm print on the handle that was traced later to Jones’ shooting.
Davis has maintained his innocence and said he was shot by police after being mistaken for the robbery suspect. His attorney has suggested the gun police found was placed against his palm after he was handcuffed.
The State's Attorney's Office disclosed Gutierrez to Francis-Williams about a week before trial, but withheld his identity. Just two business days before he testified, Francis-Williams learned his name but was not allowed to tell her client until the morning Gutierrez took the stand.
“I was literally preparing my cross [examination] during his direct examination,” she said.
Gutierrez’s account gave prosecutors several elements missing from Davis’ first trial: an alleged confession as well as a motive, with Gutierrez alleging Davis said the killing was the result of a “neighborhood beef.”
Gutierrez told jurors that he met Davis through his then-cell mate in Jessup, who sold homemade alcohol. Davis allegedly told Gutierrez that he “aired out” Jones and then fled in a cab, telling the hack driver to “drive, drive, drive!”
While jurors deadlocked in Davis' first trial, they took about two hours to find Davis guilty at the second.
Assistant State's Attorney Andrea Mason told jurors in closing arguments that Gutierrez possessed a detail that only someone with knowledge of the case would know: that a woman ran out of the garage where Davis took refuge while running from police. That detail appeared in The Baltimore Sun in an article from the first trial.
He testified that he never saw media coverage of the case.
Gutierrez’s testimony also helped prosecutors address another inconsistency from Davis’ previous trial. A police officer who chased Davis said the man he pursued had dreadlocks or braids; Davis had close-cropped hair, and his supporters said the mistake bolstered the idea that police pursued the wrong person.