Keith Davis Jr. trial ends with a hung jury

The trial of Keith Davis Jr. in the murder of Kevin Jones ended in a hung jury Tuesday.

Davis Jr. was charged with first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and use of a firearm to commit a felony or violent crime in the killing of Jones, a 22-year-old security guard at Pimlico Race Course. Jones was thrown to the ground and shot 11 times in the parking lot of the racetrack in the early morning of June 7, 2015 as he made his way to work.

Hours later and a little over a mile away, Baltimore Police officers said a hack driver jumped out of his car at the scene of an accident and told police the man in his car was trying to rob him. Officers maintain they chased the man into an auto garage and, thinking they saw him point a gun and heard gunshots, began to fire. They fired 44 rounds, striking the man in the face and arm before he surrendered. The man they shot was Davis, who was the first person shot by police following the in-custody death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed. There was no evidence that Davis fired any shots while in the garage.

Davis has always maintained police got the wrong man in a case of mistaken identity. Taking the stand in his own defense, he testified standing outside a convenience store on Belvedere Avenue to light a cigarette when somebody yelled “Gun!” He said he saw a man coming out of an alley with a gun and ran. He took shelter in a nearby auto garage and hid behind a refrigerator. Likening the rain of bullets to the sound of war, Davis testified he did not know it was police shooting at him until he woke up at Sinai Hospital.

“It happened so fast,” he said.

The BPD’s violent garage shootout and inconsistencies in the department’s narrative, the long and frequent delays in the court process, and Davis’ insistence that he is innocent have drawn increased interest and scrutiny from the activist community, organized by grassroots colllective Baltimore Bloc with the cooperation of Kelly Holsey, Davis' fiance who Davis was talking to on the phone as he was being shot at.

Police recovered a gun on top of the refrigerator and lifted prints from the handle that matched Davis’ right palm and middle finger. Ballistics testing later matched the gun to shell casings found at the site of Jones’ murder.

In a February 2016 trial related to the garage shooting, Davis was acquitted on 14 of 15 charges, including one charge of wearing, carrying, or transporting the firearm, but a jury convicted him of prohibited possession of a regulated firearm. Days after the trial, the Baltimore Police Department announced charges against Davis tied to Jones’ killing.

In testimony, Davis offered this theory about how his prints ended up on the gun: “I believe the police put that gun on me when they realized I was shot and they had no reason to shoot me.”

Assistant State’s Attorney Andrea Mason went to painstaking lengths to link Davis with the gun, calling in a BPD weapons expert, the former BPD crime lab technician who pulled the print and now works in Nevada, and crime lab technicians who collected evidence, including shell casings, from the scene of Jones’ murder. An FBI analysis of Davis’ phone records placed him in the area of Pimlico shortly after the shooting.

Jurors would have to “suspend reality” to believe that the officer who chased Davis into the garage carried a gun on his person in case he needed to plant it, Mason said during closing arguments.

But there was nebulous evidence to put Davis at the scene of the shooting or the hack robbery. Vaugn Ringgold, a co-worker of Jones who saw him walking the work on the morning of the murder, told police he believed the shooter was in his late 30's or early 40's. Officer Lane Eskins, who chased Davis into the garage, later said he was pursuing a man with braids—which Davis never had.

As with the first trial, defense attorney Latoya Francis-Williams tried continually to discredit the police department’s official narrative, attempting to discredit the testimony firearms examiner James Wagster, who did not take any measurements of the markings on the casings recovered. (It is standard for firearms examiners to study the markings under a microscope without measuring them, he said on the stand.)

During closing arguments, Francis-Williams alluded to the department's reputation for corruption offered jurors this potential line of thinking from the perspective of police: “We have trouble down the block. We shot someone down the block. We can make this fit.”

The defense offered one alibi witness, Carla Hines, who said she was with Davis into the morning of June 7 watching movies. She testified that Davis didn’t leave the house until about 9 a.m., roughly four hours after Jones’ murder.

The jury seemed stuck. After having recorded evidence played back to them, jurors deliberated for hours Monday, asking Judge Alfred Nance if they could obtain audio excerpts of the testimony they had heard. Judge Nance told them he could not meet their request and instructed them to rely on their notes. About 5 p.m. Monday, they passed a note they could not reach a decision.

Deliberations continued Tuesday, and after more hours in the jury room, the jurors passed a note informing the court they could not reach a unanimous verdict.

"There is a divide that will not be overcome," the note to Judge Nance read.

"I'm not a fan of mistrials, 'cause it doesn't end anything," Nance told the lawyers for both sides.

He then called in the jury and granted the state's motion for a mistrial.

Nance told the lawyers to appear before Judge Charles J. Peters to discuss scheduling a new trial. They could appear before Peters as early as this afternooon or tomorrow morning.

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