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Activists Protest “Persecution” Of Keith Davis Jr. After New Attempted Murder Charges

Bilphena Yahwon speaks during a Tuesday rally.
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Bilphena Yahwon speaks during a Tuesday rally.

Dozens of activists decried what they called the endless pursuit of Keith Davis, Jr. outside the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse on Tuesday, days after Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby charged him with attempted murder over a prison stabbing that occured last June.

“This persecution must stop,” said defense attorney Latoya Francis-Williams, who represented Davis during three trials and announced she will file a civil suit against Mosby. “Not another dime should be spent on this persecution, not another dime from our community, not another taxpayer dollar. It does no one any service.”

Davis has been in jail since 2015, after the State’s Attorney’s Office charged him with the killing of Kevin Jones, a Pimlico Security guard who was shot while walking to work. He has been through four murder trials: two ended in hung juries, one in a conviction that was overturned and one in another conviction in 2020. But a city judge granted him a new trial last month, meaning he likely will face a fifth trial.

Last Friday, he was charged with attempted murder for an alleged prison stabbing that occured during a jailhouse fight in June 2020. In charging documents, Detective Sgt. Roger Balderston said that Davis stabbed fellow Maryland Reception, Diagnostic and Classification Center inmate Kenneth O’Neil several times; he allegedly required sutures and staples for his injuries.

Davis has maintained innocence throughout his lengthy legal battles. Baltimore police arrested him in June 2015, alleging that he tried to rob a cab driver by gunpoint before fleeing on foot. During a chase — Davis has said the incident was a case of mistaken identity and that he ran because he was afraid — police fired 44 shots at Davis, striking him three times, including once in the face.

The State’s Attorney’s Office charged him with 15 felonies, including armed robbery and the possession of a regulated firearm; the latter charge is the only one that stuck. Days after his 2016 gun charge conviction, prosecutors charged him with Jones’ murder, citing ballistics testing that they said matched the gun he was convicted of holding to shell casings at the site of the killing. Davis maintains the gun was planted by police.

Since then, cries of “Free Keith Davis Jr.!” have dominated protests and rallies throughout Baltimore. His lawyers, family and supporters say Mosby has maliciously prosecuted Davis because he survived a police shooting, pointing to her office’s inability to secure a conviction as proof that the charges against him hinge on what they call untrustworthy evidence, including a non-credible jailhouse witness.

“We are saying not only drop the charges against Keith Davis Jr., but that no tax money, no taxpayer, none of us should be implicated in the violence of the state — that the State's Attorney Office and Marilyn Mosby should not be allowed to use over $1.9 million of city funds to continue her malicious and unjust prosecution of a police brutality victim,” said Bilphena Yahwon, a writer, organizer and prison abolitionist, at the rally, which sheriff's officers attempted to break up.

Activists frequently criticized the State’s Attorney by name and decried what Brandon Walker of the Ujima People's Progress Party called “the myth of the progressive prosecutor.”

“Where there’s a world where Keith Davis Jr. can be prosecuted five times, there’s a possibility that any of us can be prosecuted by State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby in such a manner,” youth activist Bry Reed said.

She decried the lack of resources and opportunities for Baltimoreans grappling with structural racism while Mosby’s office spends time and money on what she called failed prosecutions.

“Black children petition. We sign petitions, we gather together, we laugh, we love. We try to keep each other safe and nobody pays attention until we break a window,” Reed said. “We understand the conditions that you are setting for our lives and we will not stand for it.”

Francis-Williams called on city voters to cast Mosby out of her office.

“What we need is true transparency. What we need is a fact finding mission by an objective State's Attorney's Office,” she said. “If all we have is someone that is going to bury their head in the sand and pretend that their rendition of what happened to Kevin Jones is in fact the truth, we don't have much of anything."

Francis-Williams questioned the timeline of the new attempted murder charge, given that the alleged incident occurred nearly a year ago, noting it came shortly after Mosby was recorded giving the finger to a male cyclist who rode by her, chanting “Free Keith Davis Jr.!” Mosby has said the man was behaving aggressively.

Zy Richardson, Mosby’s spokeswoman, said her office was waiting on the decision on the new trial before deciding how to proceed with the new charge.

“He was sentenced to 50 years and is a public safety threat, so once his sentence was disturbed we reviewed the DPSCS allegations for legal sufficiency and moved forward accordingly,” she said in a statement.

“The evidence contained in the Statement of Probable Cause accompanying the new charges against Keith Davis was located and developed by the Department of Corrections, and sworn to under oath by its investigator. As is frequently the case, our office reviewed the evidence and the Statement of Probable Cause for legal sufficiency,” Richardson said.

Yahwon pushed back against the SAO’s “public safety threat” narrative, becoming emotional as she called Davis “not property of a prison but a loving father.” Davis has continued to be so present in the lives of his four children and his wife Kelly, she said, that despite their separation, their teachers did not know he was in prison until last year.

“He's stuck in a prison, while his children are growing older, while his children are having their firsts, while they're going to new grade levels, while they're learning new things,” Yahwon said, tears running down her face. “And it hurts because he deserves to be here.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.