The parents of a young man who was murdered in Baltimore have expectations. They expect justice. They expect witnesses to come forward and help the police. They expect the homicide detectives to diligently investigate the case, to find evidence that will lead to the arrest and conviction of their son’s killer, and they expect the killer to be sent to prison. I have heard these parents and others express these expectations. In an ideal world, their expectations would be met, and all would be right.
But, of course, it does not work that way, in Baltimore, particularly. So many shootings and homicides are related to gangs and the sale of drugs — insular worlds rife with fear and intimidation, complex back-stories and fraught relationships. Getting information about shootings, even from those who survive them, is hard. On a sidewalk in northeast Baltimore two years ago, a 16-year-old boy lay wounded from gunfire. Sensing that the boy might not survive, detectives asked him to identify the person who had left him mortally wounded, and the boy refused, and the boy died; the police lost their best witness.
And so it is a huge challenge, more than we appreciate: getting information about the violent crime that occurs in the streets, gathering evidence to make a case that sticks, getting witnesses to testify and to do so in a manner that convinces a jury. A constitutionally sound arrest and search, a plea bargain and a sentence that gets a violent person off the street for a while — sometimes, if not most times, that’s the best that can be expected. I am not making excuses for citizens who refuse to help the police or for the police or for prosecutors. I am merely describing a reality that is generally understood around here.
It might help to explain David Warren.
[ Community has to work together to turn tide on witness intimidation in Baltimore ]
As we have reported over the last couple of years, Warren has been arrested for many violent crimes but avoided conviction numerous times, though the reasons are not always clear. Let me go over the history again:
In 2006, at age 14, Warren was charged with attempted first-degree murder; the charge was later dropped. In 2009, he was again charged with attempted first-degree murder, plus robbery, burglary and assault; the charges were later dropped. In 2010, police arrested Warren again for attempted first-degree murder; again, the charges were dropped. In 2011, Warren was found guilty of stealing a car; he received a 10-month prison sentence. Later that year, state and federal prosecutors implicated him in an East Baltimore drug gang that carried out a series of retaliatory shootings, some of them fatal. But prosecutors ended up dropping their first-degree murder charge against Warren.
In 2013, he pleaded guilty to committing an armed robbery; a judge gave him 15 years in prison, with all but five suspended. By spring 2016, Warren was out of prison and getting arrested again. Police accused him of shooting up a Memorial Day weekend cookout in Baltimore, leaving five people wounded. At trial, the state’s lead witness gave contradictory testimony, and a jury acquitted Warren of five counts of attempted murder.
That’s not all of it. There was a federal firearms charge, dropped in September 2017. There was a state handgun charge, dropped the following May.
A year later, this past June, the city dropped yet another handgun charge against Warren. But this time, there was an expressed reason for the decision: The city had deferred prosecution to Baltimore County, where — are you ready? — Warren faced another attempted murder charge.
According to a statement of facts presented in court in Towson on Tuesday, the charge stemmed from the mid-morning shooting of a man named Jonus Ben on Glen Michael Lane in Randallstown. The shooting occurred on June 27, 2018 at 10:17 a.m. Felise Kelly, an assistant state’s attorney, said Ben was shot nine times, mostly in the back, and survived. He was not in court when David Warren appeared for trial.
However, there was no trial.
And I know what you might be thinking right now — that he got off again — but this time, Warren did not get to walk out of the courthouse and into the sunshine. This time, the state dropped the attempted murder charge, but succeeded in getting Warren to plead guilty to first-degree assault and a handgun charge.
According to a statement of facts, a combination of video from a surveillance camera, a DNA test and the results of a firearms examination provided prosecutors with enough evidence to get Warren’s guilty plea. A key development in the police investigation was the discovery of a 40-caliber Glock in Warren’s car, a maroon Toyota Avalon, in the city last August. Again, from the prosecutor: “Ballistics comparisons of the [bullet] casings from the Glen Michael shooting scene revealed the casings from the scene were consistent with being fired from the handgun recovered from the Toyota Avalon.”
In return for the guilty plea, Warren, now 27, received 25 years in prison, with all but 10 suspended, on the assault charge, and five years, concurrent, on the handgun charge. He will not be eligible for parole for the first five years. Considering the facts, and the circumstantial nature of the evidence, I say the state served the public as well as it could. It got David Warren off the street for a while, and sometimes that’s the best that can be expected.