Activist DeRay Mckesson’s nonprofit takes up defense of Keith Davis Jr., unveils website faulting state’s case

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Mobile billboards roll through the streets of Baltimore, demanding the state’s attorney drop the murder case. Volunteers canvass city neighborhoods, distributing flyers with “Marilyn Mosby is lying to you.” They unveiled a website to fight the prosecution of Keith Davis Jr.

It’s all a campaign to build national support for the Baltimore man now facing his fifth trial for the murder of Pimlico security guard Kevin Jones in 2015. Activists, attorneys and the Davis family gathered Wednesday to announce their new effort to clear the name of the 29-year-old defendant. They had a firm message for Baltimore’s state’s attorney Mosby: “Drop the charges.”

“The truth is actually just so clear that we don’t need to embellish it. I don’t need to do anything to it. I just need to show you,” activist DeRay Mckesson told reporters in a law office downtown.

He said his team has uncovered a slew of inconsistencies, problems and lies over the five-year legal saga that’s included four murder trials against Davis and one trial for armed robbery. These instances are explored on the new website keithdavisjr.com, with links to portions of the trial transcripts. For one, Mckesson points out testimony in which a firearms examiner says he “eyeballed” the shell casings to identify the murder weapon.

In another, he points to testimony in which a state witness says he had no evidence the gun found when police arrested Davis was actually fired. These discrepancies are among nearly 200 problems found in the case by Mckesson and his organization, We The Protesters. The New York-based nonprofit led by the former Baltimore schools administrator and Black Lives Matter activist is now carrying forth the effort to set Davis free.

Mckesson became nationally known for his activism during protests in Ferguson, Missouri over the killing of Michael Brown and he emerged as a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement. He formed the nonprofit We the Protesters to raise awareness and research police violence against African Americans and other minorities. The nonprofit’s Campaign Zero project studies policing and issues reports on topics such as use-of-force policies and body cameras.

The nonprofit brings to bear more resources, staff and experience than ever before to pressure Mosby to drop the case.

A spokeswoman for the state’s attorney declined to comment.

Shortly before the news conference, Mosby invited reporters to an event at the same time and announced assault charges against a Maryland Transit Administration Police officer. She was asked about the effort to free Davis.

“I’m not here on the Keith Davis trial. The one thing I can say about that matter is that I’m going to fight for victims of crime in the city of Baltimore. That is my job. That is my role. That is my responsibility. And my concern in that case is Kevin Jones,” she said.

In May 2017, Davis’ first murder trial resulted in a hung jury. He was tried again five months later and convicted of murder. That conviction, however, was overturned because a judge found prosecutors withheld information that raised doubts about the credibility of a key witness.

His third murder trial brought another hung jury.

In the summer of 2019, prosecutors tried Davis a fourth time for the murder. They presented jurors with evidence that his clothing matched that worn by the killer in surveillance footage, that cellphone records place him in the area at the time of the killing, and that police found him with the murder weapon.

Police lab technicians testified that they found Davis’ fingerprints on the gun. Firearms analysts said they test-fired the weapon — a distinctive target pistol — and found it matched shell casings around the body of the victim.

His defense attorney and supporters have questioned the credibility of the forensics tests of the gun. For example, a fingerprint examiner conducted her exam in all of six minutes, according to the trial testimony. The defense team presented a theory that police planted the gun after chasing Davis into a garage, mistakenly believing he was armed and firing 30 to 40 shots, grievously wounding him.

Still, jurors convicted Davis of second-degree murder. Last year, Baltimore Circuit Judge Sylvester Cox sentenced him to 50 years in prison.

His defense attorney, Deborah Katz Levi, the director of special litigation for the public defender’s office, appealed, citing a recent ruling from the state’s highest court. The judge agreed that Levi did not get the chance to question jurors about legal principals surrounding impartiality. He tossed out Davis’ conviction.

Levi has said she expects Davis to be tried again for the murder next year.

University of South Carolina School of Law Professor Colin Miller, who investigates cases on the podcast “Undisclosed” — the journalist and private investigator Amelia McDonell-Parry explores the Keith Davis Jr. case in 13 episodes of the podcast — said the repeated prosecutions of Davis are unprecedented in the courts.

“Keith Davis Jr. will become just the second person in U.S. history to be tried this many times for the same incident,” Miller said in a news release issued by the campaign. “This case — like the case of Curtis Flowers, a Mississippi man who endured six trials and spent more than two decades behind bars before his charges were dropped — is troubling because of what appears to be strong evidence of police and prosecutor misconduct.”

In May, prosecutors filed new charges against Davis and accused him of stabbing an inmate during a jailhouse fight; his defense attorney said he was attacked.

Meanwhile, the Davis case has pitted a growing number of his supporters and social justice activists in Baltimore against Mosby. Keith Davis’ wife, Kelly, has organized years of rallies and protest marches over her husband’s case.

“It should not take this much,” she said Wednesday. “It should not have taken six years to fight against a narrative from this city when they couldn’t be more wrong about my husband.”

The Law Offices of A. Dwight Pettit is working as civil attorneys for their family.

“Mr. Davis could be you. Mr. Davis could be your loved one. And the only person, or persons, that could put a stop to this is the state’s attorney for Baltimore City,” Latoya Francis-Williams, the civil attorney, told reporters. “Drop the charges. That’s what we scream: Drop the charges.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Phil Davis contributed to this article.

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