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Tony DeWitt

Other Baltimore City, Maryland exonerations
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At about 2:30 a.m. on July 5, 2002, a gunman fired several shots from around the corner of a building at people gathered on a front porch in the 1700 block of Montpelier Street in Baltimore, Maryland. Sherene Moore, who turned 16 on July 4, was fatally shot once in the chest, while 17-year-old Maurice Booker was wounded in the arm.

While police were at the scene, two cars—one burgundy and one blue—were seen driving past at least three times. Police noted the license plates. Booker’s 20-year-old sister, Tasha, who was inside at the time of the shooting, said she did not see the gunman. However, she said that she saw the burgundy car stop at one point and 22-year-old Tony DeWitt, who lived on the same block, got out. Police said she told them she saw DeWitt carrying a gun, though she denied saying that when called to testify at trial.

Tasha Booker told police that a relative told her of seeing someone named “Paris”—not DeWitt—shooting at Maurice Booker as a result of a dispute over a motorcycle. Tasha said she went to the hospital after Maurice was shot. While standing outside, the same burgundy car she saw pass by earlier pulled up with Paris and some other men. She said they were laughing and she ran inside the hospital because she was afraid.

In August 2002, police traced the license plate on the blue car to Shameka Bryant, who said she spent the night of July 4 with DeWitt. She said they met up around midnight, had some drinks, and smoked marijuana. They went to the Inner Harbor for a walk, and then had sex in a parking lot. She said she dropped him off on Montpelier Street around 3:30 or 4 a.m.—after the shooting occurred. She said she realized she had driven through crime scene tape, but she came back around anyway because she wanted DeWitt to pay for half of her gas. When a police officer tried to flag her down, she said she kept going because she had been drinking.

On October 8, 2002, DeWitt was arrested and charged with first- and second-degree murder, first- and second-degree attempted murder, first- and second-degree assault, two counts of using a handgun in the commission of a crime, and illegal possession of a handgun.

In November 2003, DeWitt went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Tasha Booker denied that she told police that she saw DeWitt get out of the blue car and run inside a building while carrying a gun. Tasha testified that, on the afternoon of July 30, 2002, Detectives Gregory MacGillivary and William Ritz came to her house and lied about their identities to gain entry. She said she told the officers that she was not outside at the time of the shooting, and “did not see” who did the shooting. According to her, the officers said that if she “didn't go with them and talk to them, they was going to lock me, have me arrested…” Further, she claimed that the officers told her that they already “knew who did the shooting” and that she “might as well just go ahead and talk because they could hold me for know[ing] it and not speaking.”

Tasha testified that MacGillivary and Ritz told her that if she wanted to avoid being arrested, she had to say that she saw DeWitt driving around Montpelier Street after the shooting and that he eventually got out with a gun in his hand. She said she was forced to identify DeWitt in a photo array and told the jury she didn’t know who the gunman was.

Maurice Booker testified that on September 25, 2002, police brought him in for questioning about a different shooting that had occurred eight days before he was shot. When police arrived to pick him up, they said they found Booker’s brother, Cornell, “bagging up weed,” and took him into custody as well.

Booker testified that Baltimore detective Kevin Turner told him that DeWitt had shot him and Moore, and that unless Booker identified DeWitt, police would arrest Booker’s mother and two sisters, and his niece would be put into foster care.

Booker said Turner had a photographic lineup on a table with the photos turned face down. Booker said that he wrote “He shot me” on the back of DeWitt’s photograph. He said detective MacGillivary told him to say that he saw an arm come around the corner of a building and fire gunshots, and that Booker then ran into the alley where he saw DeWitt try to shoot again, but ran away after his gun jammed.

Booker denied seeing the gunshots, denied running into the alley, and denied seeing DeWitt with a gun. Asked by DeWitt’s lawyer why he had lied, Booker testified, “Because of Detective Turner, he said he was going to lock my mother and my sister, my niece put in a foster care and my little sister, Brittany.”

The detectives testified and denied intimidating any witnesses or forcing them to falsely implicate DeWitt.

Police interviewed DeWitt before he was charged with the crimes. A tape of the interview was played for the jury. He said that he did not have a gun at the time of the shooting, and that he did not get out of a car and run away with a gun in his hand. DeWitt said that prior to the shooting, he and a friend named George Gaines sold cocaine and that Booker and James Wright Jr. were competitors. In the days before the shooting, Booker and Wright were angry because DeWitt and Gaines were making more money. Approximately one week prior to the shooting on Montpelier Street, Gaines told DeWitt that he had gotten into a fight with Wright and that Wright had threatened to kill Gaines. Just a few days after the fight, DeWitt said on the tape, Gaines said that he needed to kill Wright before Wright killed him.

Evidence showed that on the night of the shooting, Wright was standing next to Booker on the front porch when the shots were fired—suggesting that Wright may have been the intended target. And, in fact, just hours after Booker and Moore were shot, Gaines had been fatally shot at another location.

Moreover, evidence showed that Wright drove a burgundy car similar to the car seen circling the block after the shooting.

Bryant testified for the defense and described how she and DeWitt were out for the night, and that she dropped him off after the shooting. She said that when she was questioned in August 2002, detective MacGillivary threatened to lock her up for 30 years, but she did not change her account of the night.

Larry Mitchell, who was 19 at the time of the shooting, testified for the defense that he was on the porch and saw the gunman’s arm. He said it was that of a light-skinned black man in contrast to DeWitt, who had dark skin.

There was no physical or forensic evidence linking DeWitt to the shooting. Police recovered one bullet and two expended shell casings, but were unable to connect them to each other. No weapon was recovered.

On November 24, 2003, the jury convicted DeWitt of all of the charges. He was sentenced to life in prison.

In 2013, DeWitt filed a motion for post-conviction relief and in August 2015, the petition was granted. Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Melissa Phinn vacated DeWitt’s convictions because his trial defense lawyer had failed to investigate an alternative suspect.

At an evidentiary hearing on the post-conviction motion, Tyrell Curtis testified that in December 2002, he told police that George Gaines—DeWitt’s drug-selling partner who was killed later on the night of the shooting of Moore and Booker—was the gunman and that he was intending to shoot James Wright. Curtis said that DeWitt was not the gunman who shot Moore and Booker.

“If Curtis, an eyewitness, had been developed by trial counsel as a potential witness the jury would have heard that he was standing right next to the deceased, Sherene Moore and the surviving victim Booker when the shots were fired and that he identified Gaines as the shooter,” Judge Phinn ruled. “Further, the jury would have heard that Gaines was killed four hours after the shooting in this case and could have inferred that Gaines was killed in retaliation.”

On October 16, 2015, the prosecution dismissed the charges and DeWitt was released.

In October 2018, lawyers for DeWitt filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city of Baltimore and several police officers, including detectives MacGillivary, Ritz and Turner.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 4/13/2020
State:Maryland
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Attempted Murder, Assault, Gun Possession or Sale, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2002
Convicted:2003
Exonerated:2015
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No