In a Baltimore courtroom Monday, Keith Davis Jr. stared across a table at the hack driver prosecutors allege he tried to rob at gunpoint before being shot himself by city police last summer.
Charles Holden, 60, who has glaucoma, stared back, repeatedly blinking and widening his eyes to get a good look at the 24-year-old seated before him. Assistant State's Attorney LaZette Ringgold-Kirksey asked Holden — her first witness in Davis' trial after months of delays in the case — if he recognized Davis as the man who had tried to rob him.
"To my recollection," Holden said after several seconds, "that don't look like him."
The exchange was a blow to the prosecution, which has charged Davis with more than a dozen crimes in connection with the June incident, including attempted robbery, assault and several handgun violations. They say that after Holden pulled up to two officers parked in the 3900 block of W. Belvedere Ave. and announced he was being robbed, Davis bailed out — ultimately running into an auto garage and refusing to obey commands from police to drop a handgun in his hand, leading officers to open fire on him.
Davis has argued that he was never in Holden's car, never had a gun, and only ran because he, like many other young black men in Baltimore, fears police.
The trial began Monday after Davis declined a plea deal involving a 15-year sentence. He now faces more than three decades behind bars if convicted on all the counts against him, according to sentencing guidelines.
Baltimore police say man pointed pistol at officers before garage shooting
Among the counts he faces are multiple handgun charges, though prosecutors dropped a charge last week accusing him of firing the handgun they say he had that morning.
In a nod to the conflicting stories, both Ringgold-Kirksey and Davis' attorney, Latoya Francis-Williams, asked the 12-member jury to be shrewd as they listened to the evidence and testimony from witnesses.
Ringgold-Kirksey told the jurors she didn't want them to "check your common sense at the door," but to "gut check" the story being put forward by Davis for its believability.
Francis-Williams said "the devil is in the details," asking jurors to take note of discrepancies she said would arise in the prosecution's narrative of events and in the accounts of police officers at the scene that day.
"In Baltimore City, when police start running with guns out, everyone starts running," she said. "It doesn't make you guilty."
Francis-Williams also asked jurors to carefully consider whether the actions of the responding officers were appropriate, saying "bullets literally rained down" on Davis as police opened fire on him from outside the dark garage.
"When is such conduct OK, if it's ever OK?" she asked.
In addition to Holden, the state also called two other witnesses Monday: Martina Washington, 43, and her fiance, Bernard Berkley, 50, who were in the garage when the state alleges Davis ran in armed with a handgun. Their testimony seemed to raise as many questions as it answered.
For example, when Holden said he could not remember specific details about the appearance of the man who had tried to rob him, Francis-Williams played a recording of his statement to police that day, when he said the man had a different hairstyle, different facial hair and different clothing than Davis. Francis-Williams also questioned Holden on his description of the gun, which he said on the stand was silver.
Washington testified that she couldn't identify Davis as the person in the garage, but said whoever ran into the garage had a black gun. But, she also suggested that investigators had coached her answers in her initial statement to them, and that she had been drinking alcohol for several hours before the incident. She also questioned the police response to the situation, testifying that a female police officer fired a bullet right past her right ear as she ran out of the garage.
"I wasn't scared of the person inside, I was scared of the police, because the police shot right past me," she testified.
Berkley testified that it was dark in the garage that day and that he didn't get a good look at the man who ran in. The man asked him where the back door was, he said, and he'd said there was no back door. Otherwise, he'd just run out of the garage to go after Washington, who had screamed.
Police have said Davis surrendered after being shot, and that a .22-caliber long pistol was found in the garage, near where he was found.
The trial will continue on Tuesday with more state witnesses, possibly including police officers on the scene that day.
Judge Barry G. Williams — who was assigned the case amid a break in presiding over the trials of the six Baltimore police officers charged in the arrest and death of Freddie Gray — said that he expects the case to conclude Wednesday or Thursday.
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