A Baltimore man acquitted of first-degree murder in the fatal stabbing of a high school classmate inside the city’s Renaissance Academy two years ago was shot in the chest in a gunbattle in West Baltimore on Thursday, according to two sources familiar with the investigation.
Donte Crawford's shooting came two years and one day after the death on Dec. 20, 2015, of classmate Ananias Jolley, 17. He died from injuries suffered in a confrontation with Crawford in a Renaissance biology lab the month prior.
Crawford was acquitted by a jury of all charges in Jolley's killing last year after he testified that he acted in self defense. He was released from custody after nearly a year behind bars awaiting trial.
On Thursday, police said a man was in serious condition after being found shot in the chest and unconscious in a stolen Dodge Neon — and with a stolen handgun in his lap — in the 1100 block of W. Lanvale St. about 5:10 p.m.
Sources said that the man is Crawford and that detectives believe he was exchanging gunfire with someone in a car that was chasing him. He was shot and wounded and then jumped into the stolen vehicle.
Crawford’s condition was listed as serious Saturday evening, according to a spokesman for the University of Maryland Medical System.
Neither Crawford nor his family could be reached for comment. Defense attorney Jonas Needleman, Crawford’s attorney in his previous criminal case, declined to comment Friday.
The sources requested anonymity to speak candidly about the investigation. Police generally do not provide the names of victims who survive shootings.
T.J. Smith, a police spokesman, would not identify the shooting victim at a Friday news conference, but said police “would obviously look at retaliation” as a possible motivation in the shooting because “retaliation is a big thing in many of the murders” in Baltimore.
“We say this often: Today’s suspect could be tomorrow’s victim. Today’s victim is yesterday’s suspect,” Smith said.
He said police had no specific evidence pointing to such a motive, “but that could change.”
Smith said the victim “was talking and not cooperating with officers” after the shooting. He said charges would be filed against the victim for allegedly being in a stolen vehicle with a stolen gun, but the timing of those charges would depend on the progress of his medical treatment.
At the time of Jolley’s stabbing two years ago, both he and Crawford were participants in Seeds of Promise, an intensive mentoring program at Renaissance. The school serves a population of predominantly male, at-risk youths. Jolley’s death rocked the close-knit school community.
On Friday, Nikkia Rowe, the principal of Renaissance and a fierce advocate for its students, called all of Baltimore’s violence “senseless.” She also slammed what she described as a societal disregard for factors like poverty that are exposing young black men to a cycle of violence.
“There are thousands of little black boys that are in these circumstances, that we don’t see the promise in,” she said. “If we did, collectively as a community, we would be doing everything humanly possible to engage them in a way to change this narrative, and we’re not.”
Rowe said “Baltimore is bleeding, and it will continue to bleed until those who are in positions to change those systems” take action. For her part, she said, she focuses on hope, and communicates a simple message to her students: “You do not create harm.”
“You don’t create harm by selling drugs in your community. That’s creating harm,” she said. “You don’t create harm by engaging in violent acts. You don't cause harm by breaking the law, because there is this rippling effect that impacts us all, whether we want to acknowledge it or not.”
At his trial last year, Crawford’s attorneys said their client, who was 17 at the time of the stabbing, felt bullied and afraid of Jolley and Jolley's friends — some allegedly associated with the M Street Gang of McCulloh Homes. They said he didn't mean to kill Jolley during the confrontation.
Crawford, in tears, testified that he had been afraid for his life during the confrontation. He testified that Jolley had charged at him in the classroom, even though a substitute teacher there that day testified that Crawford charged Jolley.
“I just got scared and started jabbing. I had a small pocket knife and just started jabbing,” Crawford said. “I was trying to get him off of me. I had no intention of hurting that man.”
Prosecutors used school surveillance video of Crawford pacing in front of a classroom on the day of the attack in an attempt to convince the jury that Crawford had been waiting to attack Jolley. They argued that he had sneaked a knife into the school, past its metal detectors and the pat-down all students get when entering the school.
Jurors deliberated for less than three hours before acquitting Crawford of all of the charges, including first- and second-degree murder, possession of a deadly weapon with intent to harm, and manslaughter.
Crawford’s shooting on Thursday occurred in Harlem Park, less than a mile from Renaissance, in the 1300 block of McCulloh St. in West Baltimore.
Police had not made any arrests Friday.
The school’s community partner, Promise Heights at the University of Maryland School of Social Work, wrote on Twitter on Friday in response to news of Crawford’s shooting: “So many of our students are disconnected with no support system. A 19 year old youth with no one to rely on and who isn’t safe in the only city he’s ever known. Offender/victim: 2 sides of the same coin. Either way, devastation.”