Fifth murder trial set for Davis
But state’s attorney, her presumptive successor add uncertainty to case
A Baltimore judge has scheduled Keith Davis Jr.’s fifth murder trial for next May.
By that time, Ivan Bates, the Democratic nominee for state’s attorney, is expected to have been sworn in to office and the decision of how to handle the controversial legal saga will fall to him.
On the campaign trail, Bates said he disagreed with State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby’s repeated prosecutions of Davis and that he believed the charges should be dismissed.
Despite persistent calls from Davis’ supporters to “Free Keith Davis Jr.,” Mosby has not wavered from her position that there is enough evidence to support a conviction and that her prosecutors are committed to seeking justice on behalf of Kevin Jones, the Pimlico Race Course security guard who was gunned down more than seven years ago. Mosby’s term ends Jan. 2.
The competing perspectives between the incumbent and her presumptive successor add uncertainty to an already unique case. Some scholars say Davis’ repeated prosecutions are unprecedented in the courts, though Mosby’s office disputes the contention that he is among the most prosecuted people in American history.
“The incoming state’s attorney vowing not to pursue a case that the current state’s attorney is pursuing is a pretty unusual scenario,” said David Jaros,
faculty director of the Center for Criminal Justice Reform at the University of Baltimore School of Law.
This demonstrates a problem “we wrestle with constantly in this country,” Jaros said, “that politics infect and shape prosecutorial decisions and actions.”
Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn on Wednesday scheduled Davis’ trial for May 1 through May 19. The lawyers are expected to handle his fifth murder trial, and his unrelated attempted murder trial, over those three weeks.
Phinn scheduled motions hearings for March 28 through March 30, as both the prosecution and defense plan to call experts to debate the legal matters.
Bates has vowed in the past not to prosecute the case if elected. In March, he said he believed the charges against Davis should be dismissed. After winning the Democratic primary last month, he told reporters he couldn’t speak about the case, but he had been vocal about his position on the campaign trail and said he keeps his promises.
“As State’s Attorney-elect, I am no longer a private citizen. I must be
mindful of the gag order imposed to the current State’s Attorney and how it would ethically apply to me. For this reason, I can provide no further comments on the Keith Davis Jr. case,” Bates said Tuesday in a statement to The Baltimore Sun.
The so-called gag order issued June 7 by Circuit Court Judge John Nugent prohibits lawyers involved in the case and their staffs from making statements outside court that could sway public opinion about the case. It’s one of several outstanding legal matters set to be
addressed before trial and before Bates takes office.
Davis’ lawyers have accused Mosby of violating the gag order twice: when she spoke about the case on Baltimore’s public radio station, WYPR-FM, within hours of the order taking effect, and when she commented in July on a social media post from someone claiming to be a voter who said Mosby lost her support because of her administration’s repeated prosecutions of Davis.
Nugent set a hearing for Aug.
12 to litigate the issue, ordering Mosby to appear in court to try to persuade the judge not to hold her in contempt of court.
Davis’ supporters became a thorn in Mosby’s side. The two-term Democrat has clashed more than once with people calling for her to dismiss Davis’ charges.
Defense attorneys for Davis highlighted those spats and Mosby’s public comments as part of a pattern of animosity they used to argue that Davis’ murder and attempted murder cases should be dismissed. Mosby’s office brought the latter charges against Davis almost a year after an alleged jail fight and weeks after he won a new murder trial.
Nugent stopped short of dismissing either case, but found Davis’ lawyers had provided enough evidence to show there was a “presumption of vindictiveness” underlying his attempted murder case — an exceptionally rare ruling in the courts. His order requires Mosby’s office to provide Davis’ lawyers with any evidence of animosity before an evidentiary hearing about the legal issues.
Online court records do not show a date for that hearing yet.
Bates won the primary election comfortably and faces no challengers in November’s general election, though it’s possible someone launches a write-in candidacy. It’s unclear whether his clear path to office and previous stance on the case will impact scheduling or the prosecutors’ position on the case now.
Mosby’s office first charged Davis with murder in Jones’ death in 2016, days after he was largely absolved in an attempted-armed robbery case that stemmed from an incident the same morning Jones was killed. The jury found he was guilty of being a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.
Police and prosecutors say that firearm was recovered from a garage that officers chased Davis into the day of Jones’ death. The officers suspected Davis was armed and had robbed an unlicensed cab driver and fired 32 rounds at him, striking him three times.
The jury deadlocked at Davis’ first murder trial in 2017. His second trial the same year ended in a conviction that was overturned when a judge found prosecutors withheld information from the defense. Another hung jury came at his third trial, in 2018.
In 2019, a jury found Davis guilty but the conviction was reversed in the aftermath of an appellate court ruling that applied to jury selection across the state.
Davis is being held in jail without bond.