Baltimore’s new prosecutor on Friday dropped all charges against a black man who has been tried four times for the same murder, releasing him from behind bars and ending a controversial case that has repeatedly raised questions about the police conduct and prosecution.
Keith Davis Jr. has been charged with the fatal shooting of Pimlico Racecourse security guard Kevin Jones in 2015 after police claimed his gun matched casings at the scene of the shooting. Before arresting Davis, the officers shot him several times, leaving him seriously injured. He survived and has maintained his innocence ever since.
Newly elected Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates, who took office Jan. 3, announced Friday that the charges were dropped.
“Today’s dismissal relates to the missteps of my predecessor in her quest for conviction at all costs,” Bates said in a press release. “I have a duty to ensure justice for all, not just the victim but also the accused.”
Bates had pledged during the campaign trail to reconsider the case, which his predecessor, Marilyn Mosby, had repeatedly taken to court. Mosby was defeated in a Democratic primary last year while facing federal perjury charges.
Contacted on Friday, Mosby told The Associated Press that the case “has always been about pursuing justice for Kevin Jones and his family.” She declined to comment further.
Jones’ grandmother, Earlene Neals, said she felt blindsided and heartbroken by the news.
“Our family is destroyed,” she told AP by phone. “Kevin gets no justice – none.”
She accused Bates of using the case for political gain, saying she was skeptical that police would ever identify another suspect now that Davis is free.
Davis was the first person shot dead by Baltimore police following the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, a critically injured black man in police custody whose case sparked protests and civil unrest in Maryland’s largest city in amid calls for police reform.
A recent confluence of factors helped Davis regain his freedom after seven years behind bars, including growing support from activists and Bates’ election in 2022. Then a defense attorney, Bates beat Mosby in the Democratic primary, which which secured him the election in November in the strongly Democratic city.
Davis requested confidentiality on Friday and has not made any public appearances, although he was pictured smiling broadly inside a vehicle after his release. He celebrated with supporters, including his wife, Kelly Davis, who for years led a grassroots movement seeking to clear his name.
“I hope people realize that we saw wrongful conviction in real time – and we didn’t look away,” she told The Associated Press. “Keith survived the bullets because that wasn’t the end of his story. It was meant to be so much bigger.”
She called the case “an indictment of the whole system.”
“Keith is not an anomaly,” added Kelly Davis, saying that many other defendants with credible affidavits remain behind bars. He’s home now, she says, but “we can’t get back those years that were stolen from us.”
Lawyers for the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, who represented Keith Davis throughout the proceedings, said Friday’s ruling helps restore confidence in Baltimore’s justice system.
Maryland public defender Natasha Dartigue said Mosby’s handling of the case went “against any concept of justice.”
Davis, 31, faced his fourth murder trial in 2019, when the jury found him guilty of second-degree murder – a result that was later overturned on appeal in 2021. Two previous trials ended in void trials. A third trial led to a second degree murder conviction which was also overturned.
At the time of his release Friday, Davis was awaiting a potential fifth trial.
In 2021, after his last conviction was overturned, prosecutors filed additional charges against Davis, accusing him of attempted murder in a stabbing nearly a year earlier while he was behind the bars. When those charges were filed, a Baltimore judge found a “presumption of revenge” behind the accusation. The same judge also found Mosby in contempt of court after finding she deliberately violated a gag order by commenting on the high-profile case on Instagram.
The attempted murder case was also dismissed on Friday.
Jones was shot on June 7, 2015 on the Pimlico Trail northeast of Baltimore.
Hours after the shooting, a Baltimore police officer was flagged down by an unlicensed taxi driver in a nearby neighborhood who said someone had tried to rob him at gunpoint. Police identified Davis as a suspect, chased him through the streets, and cornered him in a mechanic’s garage. Police then fired at least 33 rounds at Davis, hitting him three times, including one in the face.
Authorities said Davis planted a gun on the refrigerator he was hiding behind inside the garage. But Davis said the gun was planted at him after the police shooting.
Davis was first tried in 2016 for armed robbery. The jury found him not guilty on all counts except unlawful possession of a handgun. About a week later, prosecutors charged him with murder in the Pimlico shooting, citing ballistics tests.
In his announcement Friday, Bates stopped short of pronouncing Davis innocent. Because he commented on the matter during the campaign trail, Bates said, he asked one of his deputies to do the formal review.
“It is clear that a blatant disregard for professional responsibility rules and the law has permeated the attempted prosecution of Mr. Davis,” Assistant State Attorney Thomas Donnelly said in a statement.
Baltimore activist DeRay Mckesson, who celebrated with Kelly Davis and others on Friday, said he grew optimistic after Bates’ primary election victory, but “it’s not real until it’s is not real”.
He said many Davis supporters were thrilled to finally meet him in person.
“Today is a reminder that when you organize, you win,” he told AP. “It wasn’t easy, but we did it.”