A Baltimore judge granted Keith Davis Jr. a new trial after fresh questions emerged about the prison witness whose testimony helped convict him in the killing of a Pimlico Race Course security guard.
Circuit Court Judge Lynn Stewart Mays said jurors received a “sanitized version” of the criminal history of David Gutierrez, who testified that Davis had confessed the killing to him.
Mays said she found “no misconduct” on the part of prosecutors, but said there was a significant possibility that the undisclosed information about Gutierrez’s role in a Texas gang murder could have changed the outcome of the trial.
Davis, 26, was convicted of second-degree murder in the death of Kevin Jones, a 22-year-old who was gunned down in a parking lot next to Pimlico while walking to work in June 2015. Davis has maintained his innocence, and said the murder weapon was planted on him after he was shot by police, an incident that occurred just hours after Jones was killed.
Davis’ defense attorney, Latoya Francis-Williams, filed a motion after his October conviction in which she said key information had been withheld about Gutierrez, a federal inmate convicted of racketeering in Texas who was serving his time in Maryland.
Francis-Williams said she was “grateful” for the ruling and said she hoped the state would “take the time to look at what’s really going on in this case.” She noted that the State’s Attorney’s Office had tweeted “Victory” after Davis was convicted.
“Our message to the world is that this is what justice looks like and we will not stop fighting until Mr. Davis’ name is cleared,” Francis-Williams said. “The State will rue the day she decided to use Mr. Davis’ case as a political football.”
In a statement, the state’s attorney’s office said it plans to try the case again: “We respect the judge’s decision and look forward to presenting the facts of this case again in the pursuit of justice for the family of Mr. Jones.”
Previously, prosecutors said they followed court rules related to witnesses, and that the conviction should stand given the totality of the evidence against Davis.
The case was tried by prosecutors from the office’s Conviction Integrity Unit, which top prosecutor Marilyn Mosby has touted for playing a major role in getting wrongful convictions overturned.
City activists have taken up Davis’ cause, and Friday’s courtroom was packed with spectators.
On Friday, Francis-Williams presented testimony from a former cellmate of the prison witness, who disputed Gutierrez’s account. Gutierrez had testified Davis was being held in a different area of the prison but visited Gutierrez’s cell to buy alcohol from his cellmate.
Itisham Butt testified that he was a devout Muslim who teaches twice-weekly religion classes to other inmates, and has never drunk in his life. He said he came forward to clear his name.
“What I’m preaching is totally against it,” Butt testified of using alcohol.
He also said he had never met Davis, and that the rules of the prison where he is held prevent inmates from visiting other parts of the building or hanging out in each other’s cells.
But Mays said she was swayed by arguments that Gutierrez had not fully acknowledged the crimes for which he is imprisoned. He testified he was convicted of racketeering, and when pressed said he had participated in drug trafficking. His plea agreement shows he admitted to taking part in a murder.
Just hours after Jones was killed, Davis was shot by police after being chased by officers responding to a robbery report. Nearly a year later, police said the gun recovered from the scene where Davis was shot was matched to the gun used to kill Jones.
Davis, of Columbia, has asserted that he was the victim of mistaken identity when he was pursued and shot by police, and that the gun was planted on him to justify the police shooting.
There are no eyewitnesses to Jones’ killing, and no known connection between Davis and Jones.
At his first trial, prosecutors argued that his possession of the murder weapon and phone records showing him in the area of the killing when it happened pointed to his guilt. It ended with a mistrial.
Just weeks before the second trial, Gutierrez wrote a letter to authorities, claiming Davis had bragged about the murder to him. 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.”