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At a rally for Keith Davis Jr. Tuesday, Bilphena Yahwon tried to keep the crowd upbeat while talking about what supporters call his unjust treatment and the problems of the criminal justice system as a whole. She led them in chants and predicted he would come home this year.
But after a particularly powerful poem performed by a Morgan State student, Yahwon no longer could keep her composure.
“He does not deserve this,” Yahwon said while breaking down down in tears.
More than 50 people gathered in front of the Mitchell Courthouse for a lunchtime rally for Davis, the Baltimore man who was shot by police in 2015 and has been tried four times for the murder of Kevin Jones, a 22-year-old Pimlico Race Course security guard. He has maintained his innocence.
Davis’ last trial ended in a conviction, but that was overturned earlier this month by a Baltimore circuit court judge on a procedural matter, potentially setting up an extremely rare fifth trial. State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s office hasn’t made a decision, but last week officials there called Davis “a public safety threat” and said they are seeking justice for Jones’ family.
Adam Ruther, a defense attorney and former city prosecutor, said that while bringing Davis to trial again is within Mosby’s rights, many factors go into the decision.
“Can the prosecutors do this? Yes. The hard question is, because they can, should they?” said Ruther, adding that the answer sometimes lies in information about the case the public is not privy to.
Any recourse for the public displeased by a prosecutor’s decision is “at the ballot box.”
Supporters of Davis already were gearing up for a new campaign to have him freed after his latest conviction was overturned by a judge earlier this month. But those efforts may have been energized last week when the Baltimore State’s Attorney’s Office moved to charge Davis with a prison stabbing that occurred nearly a year earlier.
Those charges came just days after Mosby flipped off a Davis supporter — an incident her office initially denied.
Jones’ family could not be reached for comment.
Latoya Francis-Williams, who represented Davis at his earlier criminal trials, said at Tuesday’s rally that Davis was being “persecuted” by the State’s Attorney’s Office.
“They are not only ignoring facts, they are ignoring the law, and they believe the community will weaken over time,” she said. “Every single allegation has not only been refuted but stomped to the ground. So ask yourself this: What is her [Mosby’s] problem?”
Mosby’s office declined to comment Tuesday.
José Anderson, a University of Baltimore law professor and former public defender, said it’s not uncommon for prosecutors to keep pursuing a case if they are not dealt crucial blows — such as suppression of key evidence.
He said that process can be favorable for a defendant, as cases can break down over time and can lead to a plea.
“I’d have clients ask me, ‘How many times can they do this to me?’ The courts don’t give guidance, and it’s part of the discretion vested in the elected prosecutors to decide those things,” he said.
The sequence of events in the case has been highly controversial, beginning when multiple Baltimore Police officers opened fire on Davis in a Northwest Baltimore garage in June 2015, striking him in the face and neck. Police said they chased him following the attempted robbery of a hack cab driver and found a gun in the garage; Davis said he was unarmed and wrongly pursued by the officers.
Jurors convicted him of only a gun charge. A week after that disposition, police announced that they had connected the gun found to the murder of Kevin Jones, a Pimlico security guard shot to death outside the race course earlier on the same day Davis was shot by police.
There is no known motive; authorities say that in addition to the ballistics evidence, which defense attorneys have disputed, Davis can be linked to the area by phone location data.
Jurors deadlocked in the first murder trial. Davis was convicted by jurors at a second trial, but the verdict was overturned after a judge determined prosecutors had failed to turn over information about a jailhouse snitch who claimed Davis had confessed to the killing. A third trial ended in another hung jury.
Davis was then convicted of second-degree murder at his fourth trial, but that verdict was overturned after a judge ruled last month that his defense attorney had been unfairly barred from asking prospective jurors certain questions about impartiality and a defendant’s right not to testify.
The new charges filed last week relate to a June 2020 altercation in prison; no weapon was found, but investigators from the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services said witnesses saw Davis enter another inmate’s cell and attack him. No charges were filed at the time. Prosecutors acknowledged that after his latest conviction was overturned, they decided to press forward with the case.
“Once his sentence was disturbed we reviewed the DPSCS allegations for legal sufficiency and moved forward,” said Zy Richardson, a spokeswoman for the prosecutor’s office.
At Tuesday’s rally, Yahwon said Davis’ cause is gaining support.
“People in the city know Keith’s name. They support him. They ride for him,” she said.
Solomon Mercer, 19, criticized Mosby.
“How can you claim you want to change our city and our system, but do nothing to change it?” he said.
Bry Reed, 23, said the youth of the city are watching the case and do not want their voices to be ignored: “We petition, we fight, we make noise, and you don’t hear us until there’s a broken window.”