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Devon Little

Other Baltimore City Exonerations
At around 1 p.m. on September 24, 2016, 26-year-old Levon Stokes was shot to death while sitting in his car near the intersection of Carey and Baltimore streets on the west side of Baltimore, Maryland.

Witnesses told police they saw a man in a black hoodie walk up to the car, start shooting and then leave through a nearby alley, but they didn’t identify anybody.

Stokes’s shooting set off a widening ripple of gun violence across the area. Two men, believed to be his friends, quickly began firing shots as they ran down Carrolton Avenue. Five hours later, there were more shots outside a small grocery and liquor store a mile away. An 8-year-old girl was shot in the foot, and 26-year-old Devon Little was grazed in the shoulder.

According to reporting by the website The Trace, Detective Hassan Rasheed, the lead officer in the Stokes murder got an email from a colleague on September 25, 2016 that said: “Just an fyi. Our juvenile victim’s mother is hearing that this shooting is stemming from an argument that ensued on the corner about something that happened earlier that day on Balto & Carey, and your homicide was that day.”

Because police had identified Little as the intended target in the shooting that wounded the girl, he became a suspect in the Stokes murder.

At the time, Little was recovering from a shooting in June 2015 that left him with a bullet fragment in his sinus cavity and required the removal of part of his skull to reduce swelling. He often roamed his neighborhood, trying to find out who shot him. Stokes had also been the victim of a drive-by shooting in April 2016 that nearly killed him. Police believed that assault was drug-related but never made any arrests.

On October 3, 2016, Rasheed brought Stokes’s mother, Tonia Cox, and his sister, Tierra Cox, to the police station to look at photo array. Each picked Little from the lineup. Separately, a family friend named Mykel Butler, who also witnessed the shooting, identified Little as the shooter after seeing a photo array on October 24, 2016.

Police arrested Little on November 9, 2016 and charged him with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in committing a felony, illegal possession of a weapon, and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon. (Little had a previous conviction for drug possession.)

His trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court began on July 26, 2017. There was no physical evidence connecting Little to the Stokes shooting, nor was there any evidence that the men knew each other. A police crime lab technician testified that she examined bullet casings found at the crime scene for fingerprints and didn’t find any. The crime lab didn’t test for DNA on the casings; the technician said that would have been futile as the heat of the gun’s firing would have burned off any such evidence. That conclusion was overstated. The firing doesn’t always create sufficient heat to destroy DNA evidence.

Tonia Cox testified at trial that Little had spoken to Stokes and then paced back and forth through a nearby alley before walking back to the car and shooting Stokes through the driver’s side window. Cox said she ran north about a block and onto another street, where she saw Little exit another alley. Tierra Cox testified that just before the shooting, she and her mother talked to Stokes while he was in his car. She said they first saw Stokes speaking to Little, and then saw Little walk back up to the car and begin shooting. Tierra Cox said she ran south and also ran into Little, who came up to her and asked her “what happened?” She said she did not respond, and Little walked away.

Prior to Tierra Cox’s official identification of Little, friends had shown her a picture of Little from his Instagram page. She testified that her identification was not based on that photo.

Butler testified that she was outside a chicken restaurant close to the shooting when she heard a gunshot. She said she then looked over and saw Little atop of Stokes, shooting him. Prior to her identification of Little in the photo array, she had told police that “I never seen his face,” At trial, she explained the discrepancy by saying that she only saw the shooter in profile.

One hole in the prosecution’s case was the apparent discrepancy between the testimony of Tonia and Tierra Cox. The mother testified that just after the shooting, she had run into Little a block north of the shooting, while the daughter testified that she had seen Little a block south.

Rasheed testified in an attempt to square this circle. First, he said that based on his interviews with the Coxes, he knew the routes they had taken after the shooting, and he marked these on a map to show the jury. He also showed the jury where Tierra Cox had run into Little, even though she had not testified about that location. He also said surveillance video supported his location for Tierra Cox at the moment she encountered Little after the shooting. Finally, he offered an opinion of the circuitous route that Little must have taken to run into both women as they traveled in different directions after the shooting.

The jury convicted Little of all charges on August 2, 2017. He was sentenced to life in prison.

Little appealed his conviction. Although he claimed that the forensic technician should not have been allowed to offer expert opinion on whether DNA can survive the heat of a firing gun, the heart of his appeal was about Rasheed’s testimony concerning the events in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

Because Rasheed was presented as a lay witness, rather than an expert witness, Little’s attorneys argued that he had overstepped his role.

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals agreed. It vacated Little’s conviction on February 25, 2019. The court said that: “The detective’s testimony was improper for multiple reasons. His testimony was based primarily upon hearsay and not his perception, and the testimony was not helpful to the jury because the jury heard all of the testimony and was charged with reconciling any conflicts in the testimony.”

Little was released from prison and placed in the Baltimore City Jail, awaiting retrial. His second trial began on November 19, 2019. He was again represented by attorneys with the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender.

While Tierra and Tonia Cox again each testified about what they saw, prosecutors were now more limited in their ability to explain the discrepancy in their testimony about encountering Little after the shooting. Butler’s testimony came under attack. She testified that she was outside the chicken restaurant when the shooting happened. But video surveillance footage showed she wasn’t there. This evidence had been available at the first trial but wasn’t used.

In addition, Little’s attorneys were able to raise doubts about the thoroughness of the state’s investigation. A live bullet had been recovered from the crime scene. Three years after the shooting, it still had not been tested for DNA evidence.

Separately, the gun used in the Stokes shooting had been used twice since Little was arrested. That raised the possibility that the real shooter was still at-large. Finally, Little’s attorneys this time presented evidence that he was left-handed, contradicting the witness testimony that the shooter was right-handed.

The jury acquitted Little on November 22, 2019. Little’s mother, Janice Moses, told The Trace that she had been too scared to wait for the verdict inside the courtroom, so she sat on a bench outside. “When I sat there, I was crying. The jury came out and [a juror] gave me a high five, and she said, ‘Everything is okay.’”

On March 25, 2021, less than two years after Little’s acquittal, he was shot to death. The shooting took place near the same corner where Stokes was shot and killed in 2016.

– Ken Otterbourg

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Posting Date: 5/6/2021
Last Updated: 5/6/2021
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale, Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2016
Age at the date of reported crime:26
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, False or Misleading Forensic Evidence, Perjury or False Accusation, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No