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By Brandon Soderberg

December 4, 2017

Keith Davis Jr., a man shot by police in June of 2015 and later charged and convicted of the murder of Kevin Jones, has been granted a new trial. This will be the third time he has been tried for Jones’ murder.

A hearing for a motion for a new trial, which began on Dec. 1 and continued into today, found Davis’ lawyers focusing on the unreliability of the state’s star witness, David Gutierrez, who claimed Davis confessed to him about Jones’ murder. That claim, according to Davis’ lawyers, was impossible given prison layout and permissions.

The defense’s first witness was Ishtahim Butt, Gutierrez’s former cellmate. Gutierrez said Davis bought alcohol from Butt, and that’s how they met and got to talking, which led to Davis’ confession. However, Butt testified that he is a practicing Muslim and therefore cannot drink or make alcohol. Butt also said that he only recently met Davis, long after Gutierrez alleged Davis was hanging out in their cell buying alcohol.

The defense’s second witness, Jessup Correctional Institution security chief James Harris, testified that permissions would have prevented Davis from entering Butt and Gutierrez’s cell and vice versa.

The defense argued that Gutierrez’s testimony was the main thing that distinguished the second trial from the first—which ended in a hung jury, with only one juror voting to convict—and that if Gutierrez’s testimony was not reliable then a new trial was necessary. Additionally, Francis-Williams suggested that Gutierrez’s involvement in a past RICO case was misrepresented to the jury and judge because Gutierrez was not only involved in the drug-dealing elements of it, but also in the disposal of a body, which he burned. On Monday, Judge Lynn Stewart Mays referred to the state’s presentation of Gutierrez’s record as “sanitized.”

For a motions hearing, it was particularly dramatic—in part because of Baltimore Bloc’s demand that people in support of Davis “pack the court,” which led to a fairly full courtroom and also a number of strange and compelling moments. During his testimony, Butt explained how he learned about Gutierrez’s allegations and said a lawyer, Jeremy Eldridge, had visited him. Judge Mays chastised Frances-Williams for what she said at least “looked like” she was shaking her head and “coaching” Butt.

Butt, who is doing 30 years for the sexual abuse of a 14-year-old girl, said that he was there to “clear his name” in regards to alcohol sale and consumption as a Sunni Muslim. But Judge Mays blurted out an angry aside challening Butt’s statement, referring to his “child abuse” charge. Mays, who seemed exasperated by the nearly day-long hearing on Friday, also quoted the 1942 Bette Davis vehicle “Now, Voyager” (“Oh, Jerry, don’t let’s ask for the moon, We have the stars”) to Frances-Williams, who argued for a while about a supplement to the motion.

Similar to both murder trials for Davis, the state’s argument mostly focused on circumstantial evidence: that it was possible Davis could have gone to another inmate’s cell despite not being permitted (SAO’s Andrea Mason invoked recent news that a guard at Jessup is also a Crip) and that Davis also could have spoken to Gutierrez “during chow” (Gutierrez specifically testified that the conversation happened in his cell).

It is something of a victory for local activists and Davis’ wife Kelly, who have been calling attention to Davis’ situation since 2015.

“It doesn’t open the door to let him out, but I feel he’s been at least partially vindicated,” Kelly Davis said. “No matter what you believe, no matter what you thought, he did not do this. He should not have been convicted behind the dirty antics of the State’s Attorney’s Office. This is just one step closer to getting him home where he belongs.”

“We respect the judge’s decision and look forward to presenting the facts of this case again in the pursuit of justice for the family of Mr. Jones,” Melba E. Saunders, communications director for the State’s Attorney’s Office, said in a statement.

Additional reporting by Baynard Woods.

PHOTO: Kelly Davis, Keith Davis Jr.’s wife at a Free Keith Davis rally on Nov. 30. / Photo by Tedd Henn.

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