Keith Davis Jr. has faced four murder trials. Two ended in a mistrial (one with all but one juror voting to acquit), and the third led to a judge overturning a conviction. The fourth trial wrapped up Friday in Baltimore, just a day before President Donald Trump would attack the city in a series of tweets aimed at Rep. Elijah Cummings, who represents part of the city. Those tweets drowned out what little national coverage there was of Davis’ conviction. A jury on Friday found the 27-year-old guilty of second-degree murder after a trial equally as controversial and confusing as the previous three.
It’s highly unusual for prosecutors to try a case four times, but what’s even more unusual is how Davis’ case began. In 2015, after mistaking him for a robbery suspect—and mistaking his phone for a gun—police shot at Davis at least 33 times. Three of the shots hit him, including in the face and neck. “He had his face blown off,” his attorney said at trial. Police said he pointed a gun at them. Davis was the first victim of an officer-involved shooting in Baltimore after the death of Freddie Gray sparked protests and massive demonstrations in the city. Davis survived his encounter, and while his case didn’t reach the same level of national prominence as Gray’s, it has still gripped Baltimore and incited its own protests. “Free Keith Davis!” has been a call to arms for activists on the streets and on social media, and a season of the podcast Undisclosed criticized his prosecution.
After the shooting, Davis was charged with robbery and more than a dozen other charges. A jury acquitted Davis on all of those charges except one gun possession charge. But soon after he faced new charges—for a separate incident: the unsolved murder of a security guard, Kevin Jones. Police had found Davis’ partial palmprint on the gun from his encounter with police, and firearm experts said that weapon matched shell casings found near the security guard’s body. Authorities also presented cellphone data that placed Davis in the area of the murder. Baltimore State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby then spent the next four years trying to get a guilty verdict. She issued a statement Monday saying she hoped Jones’ family can “close this gruesome chapter of grief.”
But defense attorneys have vowed to challenge Friday’s verdict, arguing that Baltimore police—in line with a pattern and practice of misconduct—planted the gun on Davis after they mistakenly shot him. “They blew a .40 caliber bullet through his face,” Davis’ defense attorney told the jury, according to the Baltimore Sun. “When they realized he didn’t have a gun, they planted the evidence because they were afraid.”
If true, this wouldn’t be the first instance of prosecutorial and police misconduct in the case. Before Davis’ third trial, the Baltimore Civilian Review Board—an independent agency that reviews police conduct—found the officers who had shot and arrested Davis used excessive force and gave contradictory and noncredible testimony to investigators. But the board’s findings have no legal bearing on criminal cases, and the prosecution continued the case. In previous trials, prosecutors themselves were accused of withholding evidence and, in the second trial, of using the testimony of a noncredible jailhouse witness who testified that Davis confessed to the murder. A judge later said the witness’s record was overly “sanitized.”
This time around, the defense tried to poke holes in the state’s evidence against Davis. Shell casings used as evidence to connect him to Jones’ murder had gone missing, no blood was found on Davis’ clothes from the night of the murder, and there was no gunshot residue in the pistol he purportedly used to kill Jones. Additionally, Davis’ attorney said at the trial, a police detective pocketed two of the victim’s cellphones and didn’t submit them to evidence for 11 months. But the defense was not able to sway the jury. Davis will be sentenced in November and could face up to 50 years in prison.
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