By the time the judge gave her instructions and the attorneys presented their closing arguments, I knew quite a bit about my fellow jurors in State vs. Craig Williams. I knew they were psyched that Tiger Woods had won the Master’s, bummed about the Notre Dame fire and confused about the latest episode of “Game of Thrones.” I knew that they were strongly of the opinion that Catherine Pugh is done as mayor of Baltimore and needs to go away (without her pension). But what they thought about all the evidence we’d heard during the last four days, I had no clue.
After years of writing about the distrust of Baltimore’s police among so many of its residents, about the corruption scandals that have plagued the department, about the legacy of civil rights violations and the attempts to correct them through the city’s consent decree with the federal government, this was my first chance to see up close what a random group of Baltimoreans really think about the criminal justice system when they are suddenly dragooned into being a part of it. As we walked into the jury room to start deliberations, I had a lot to say. They did too.
The murder and the evidence
The case was about the killing of 15-year-old Tyrese Davis. He and his brother Tyrone were walking home along West Franklin Street between Mount and Gilmor streets about 1 a.m. on April 8, 2017, when a car stopped next to them. A man got out, brandished a gun and ordered, “Kick it out” — a robbery. Tyrone, then 17, ran one way, Tyrese ran another. Seconds later, Tyrone heard a gun fire, then the car screech away. He found his brother in an alley, shot once through the head. Tyrone called 911, and medics took his brother to Shock Trauma, where he died.
Had that been the end of things, police might never have developed a suspect in the case. The events on Franklin Street happened fast, and it was dark. Tyrone was only able to provide a vague description of the shooter and the car — not much to go on. There were no security cameras nearby, and the only physical evidence of note was a single .45-caliber shell casing.
But that wasn’t the end of things. Twenty minutes after Baltimore City police responded to the shooting on Franklin, Baltimore County police got a 911 call about shots fired on Liberty Road near the intersection with Tulsa Road. There, in a grassy, tree-dotted area across the street from a post office, they found the body of Dejuane Beverly, who had also been shot in the head. He had been waiting for a bus after a shift at work, and when police found him, his pockets were turned out, and his backpack and the fancy watch he bought when he got his new job were gone. Police recovered four .45 caliber shell casings.
The Baltimore County detective investigating Beverly’s killing, Ryan Massey, heard about the killing on Franklin Street just minutes before the one on Liberty Road. Since both involved a .45-caliber semi-automatic, and the shell casings in both were silver in color, not the usual brass, he called the city detective assigned to the Davis killing, Raymond N. Hunter Jr., to suggest checking to see whether they were fired by the same gun. They were a match.
That still didn’t get investigators anywhere. There were no witnesses to the Liberty Road killing, and there was no video. But that wasn’t the end of things either.
Suspects and an arrest
A week later, on August 15, city police were called to the scene of an alleged carjacking and shooting in the Northeast District on Willshire Road, near Belair Road. Patrol Officer Geoffrey Stafford found William Rogers there, shot in both legs. The victim said he had been giving a ride to two young men before they forced him out of his car, a black Dodge Journey, shot him and drove off. Police would recover several silver .45 caliber shell casings there, too. Baltimore Police Department Firearms Examiner James Wagster Jr., a 28-year veteran of the department who has testified as an expert witness on ballistics 625 times, told us they matched the ones from Franklin and Liberty.
Minutes later, at about 11:50 p.m., Baltimore County Officer Jeffrey Dunham was on patrol on Pulaski Highway when a black Dodge Journey blew past him. He pulled it over for doing 70 in a 50 mph zone. The driver, Kevin Parker, claimed he was trying to get to his sister who was having a baby, but he didn’t have a license. The passenger was the defendant in our case, Craig Williams. He had a license, and eventually, Officer Dunham gave Mr. Parker tickets for driving without a license and speeding, told Mr. Williams to get in the driver’s seat and sent them on their way.
Messrs. Parker and Williams got lucky — the radio system that allows Baltimore City police to talk to those in the county was down at that moment, and it wasn’t until an hour later that county police got the message to be on the lookout for that particular car.
But police in both jurisdictions now had names of suspects in the string of crimes, and the city got a warrant for Mr. Williams’ arrest. Four days later, Det. Earl Thompson of the Baltimore City Police Warrant Apprehension Unit apprehended him on the street near Gilmor Homes. He was carrying a .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun in his waistband. Ballistics tests showed it was the gun that fired the shots at all three crime scenes. Later that day, city and county police executed a search warrant for Mr. Williams’ girlfriend’s mother’s car, which he frequently drove, and they found a watch matching the one taken from Dejuane Beverly and yet another silver .45-caliber shell casing that matched all the others and the gun.
Throughout the trial, the defense attorney, Maureen Rowland, a public defender, made active use of cross examination in an attempt to raise doubts about the case presented by Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Brady, but Ms. Rowland did not call any witnesses of her own. Still, her closing argument left us with some things to think about. Was evidence presented from Mr. Williams’ initial interrogation with the homicide detectives, which stretched from 5:45 p.m. on the day he was arrested until 3 a.m., truly voluntary and uncoerced? It was hours into that interview that — after a multitude of lies — Mr. Williams admitted to the shooting during the carjacking and to being present with Mr. Parker at the other two killings, though he claimed Mr. Parker was the shooter in those cases. And even if we accept that evidence, does that necessarily make Mr. Williams a participant in those crimes, or was he, as he said at some points in the interview, afraid of Mr. Parker and worried about retaliation against him and his family if he didn’t go along with him?
When it came time for deliberations, the jury — five black women, four black men, two white women and one white man of varying ages and backgrounds — wasted no time. One juror started the discussion by saying this looked like an open-and-shut case. The particular charge Mr. Williams faced — felony murder — didn’t require us to decide whether he was the one who pulled the trigger, just whether he was a participant in the crimes. The evidence of that, the juror said, was overwhelming. The rest of the room quickly erupted in crosstalk about why the main points of the defense didn’t hold up. Mr. Williams just happened to be carrying Mr. Parker’s gun that morning? No way, no how do you take “a gun that has bodies on it,” some jurors said. He’s an innocent who was afraid of Mr. Parker? Then what’s he doing throwing gang signs in the photos and videos Baltimore County Computer Forensic Examiner Ashley Hofman pulled from Kevin Parker’s phone?
One juror initially held back from voting to convict, concerned about how Mr. Williams was treated during the interview with detectives and wondering if we should disregard some of that evidence. But others argued that he never asked for a lawyer or said he wanted to stop answering questions, and that other evidence was sufficient anyway. What really seemed to underlie the juror’s reluctance was difficulty with the idea of convicting Mr. Williams without knowing whether he was the one who pulled the trigger. What appeared to win her over was the admission by other jurors that they, too, had doubts about whether he had fired the fatal shot — and a reminder that under the felony murder statute, that was irrelevant.
We rendered a verdict of guilty on all counts — felony murder, attempted armed robbery and the use of a gun in a crime of violence.
Seeing is believing
What didn’t come up in the deliberations was whether we trusted the police. We didn’t have to — not because they didn’t provide crucial testimony in what turned out to be a long chain of evidence connecting the murder of Tyrese Davis to Craig Williams but because we never had to take their word for it. The reason: body cameras. Virtually every important moment — from the arrival of police at the scene where Davis was shot to the aftermath of the carjacking to the traffic stop on Route 40 to Mr. Williams’ arrest — was captured on a body camera. We saw exactly what the police did, what witnesses told them and where they found evidence. Trust simply wasn’t an issue. Many police officers were reluctant to adopt body cameras, and so were some prosecutors (notably Baltimore County State’s Attorney Scott Shellenberger), but from a juror’s perspective, so long as the police are doing their jobs, as they all were in this case, video is your best friend. (I talked to Mr. Shellenberger after the trial and made this point; he agreed and said he had come to see the error of his earlier objections.)
The same was true of the interrogation video. By and large, we came away impressed with with Detective Hunter’s mastery of his job (unfortunately for Baltimore, he retired shortly before the trial) — and saddened that someone who appeared as smart and quick on his feet as Mr. Williams did during his interrogation would go down the path he had.
I won’t be volunteering for another trial soon, and on the way out of the deliberation room, my fellow jurors joked about learning some tricks in jury selection from those who managed to get themselves excused. But at a time when so much is going wrong in Baltimore, and when the criminal justice system is justifiably under so much scrutiny, it was heartening to see 12 randomly selected citizens take their duty to ensure justice so seriously. I echo the sentiments that Judge Althea Handy — the calm, steady, welcoming presence on the bench throughout the trial — expressed as she excused us: I hope to see the 11 of you around. Just not in the courthouse.
A post script for my fellow jurors: You wondered what happened to Kevin Parker and whether he and Craig Williams were ever charged in Baltimore County — details that the lawyers did not and could not bring up in our case. I looked it up as soon as I got back to the office. Mr. Parker was charged in the carjacking in Baltimore City and on murder charges in Baltimore County. His carjacking trial started just after ours ended, and the county trial has not yet begun. Mr. Williams pleaded guilty to the carjacking after our verdict. In Baltimore County, Mr. Williams was convicted on March 29 of first degree murder, felony murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, and other charges. That may explain why he appeared so impassive throughout our trial. Before we walked into the courtroom, his fate was already sealed.