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David Morris

Other Maryland exonerations
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At 4:40 p.m. on December 10, 2004, during a falling rain and just as daylight ended, 18-year-old Mustafa Carter was shot dead at the corner of Fulton Avenue and Mulberry Street in Baltimore, Maryland.

The first 911 caller said he heard at least five gunshots and that the victim was on the corner of Fulton and Mulberry, lying against a wall. The caller said two perpetrators wearing hoodies fled down an alley in the back of Fulton Avenue.

Four minutes later, Keith Lewis called 911 and said he was on the corner of Fulton and Mulberry where someone had been shot. He said he could still see the two perpetrators walking down Saratoga Street toward Monroe Street. He said one was wearing a black hoodie and a pair of blue jeans and the other was clad in all black.

Officer Michael Nelson was the first officer at the crime scene. Lewis’s description became more detailed. He now said that the first man was wearing a blue hoodie, blue jeans, and black shoes. He said the second man was wearing a black jacket and blue jeans and was shorter than the other man. The short man was the gunman, Lewis said.

Nelson then drove Lewis around the neighborhood. A few minutes after 5 p.m., Lewis saw 19-year-old David Morris on the steps of 1912 West Saratoga Street, approximately 2 blocks from the shooting. Lewis told Nelson that he had lived at that address with his grandmother in the past and that Morris did not live there. Lewis said Morris was the gunman.

Nelson and a backup officer arrested Morris. Lewis was taken to the Baltimore police homicide division where he gave a tape-recorded statement. Lewis told detectives that he was driving a car stopped at a red light on the corner of Fulton Avenue and Mulberry at the time of the shooting. His girlfriend, Tonia Martin, was in the front passenger seat, and his girlfriend’s sister, Michele Martin, was in the backseat. Lewis said Tonia heard two gunshots and said that someone was being shot at. Lewis said he turned onto Mulberry Street where he saw the shooter standing over Carter, shooting him with a gun that was in his left hand. Contradicting his initial statement at the crime scene, Lewis now said that the shooter was the taller of the two men. He described the shooter as perhaps 6 feet to 6 feet one inch tall, 200 to 220 pounds, and wearing a black hoodie, a light pair of baggy blue jeans, and a pair of black shoes. Lewis said he could not see the shooter’s face. He also said he saw the taller man go through Carter’s pockets twice.

Lewis said that he drove around the block to locate the two attackers. He stated that as he turned the corner, he saw the two men come out of the alley and that Tonia and Michele yelled at him to keep moving so as not to be seen. Lewis said he eventually came back to the corner. He said he called 911 and tried to help Carter.

During this recorded interview, Lewis now said that Morris was not the gunman. He said he got a good look at the two men and that he was sure Morris was one of them. He said he looked at Morris “clear as day.”

Six months later, in May 2005, police interviewed Tonia Martin. She identified two people—a shorter one of 5 feet 5 inches to 5 feet 6 inches with medium brown skin, and wearing dark clothing. The taller one, she said, was around 5 feet 8 inches to 5 feet 9 inches. She said the taller of the two was the gunman.

On August 1, 2005, Morris went to trial in Baltimore City Circuit Court. Lewis testified that around 4:30 p.m., he was driving north on Fulton Avenue. While stopped at a red light at the intersection of Fulton Avenue and Mulberry Street, Tonia noticed three men talking in front of a wall mural. One man then fired a gun and the victim slid down the wall to the ground. The shooter again fired at the victim. Tonia exclaimed, “Ooh, they fightin’,” and Lewis said he “just had to look,” because he was “nosey.”

Lewis said he pulled the car closer and saw a shorter male hold Carter against the wall, and a taller male shoot the victim. Lewis said he saw the shooter in “a crouchin’ position . . . like he’s goin’ in his pockets or somethin’.” The shooter began to leave but “came back as if he forgot somethin’, ya know, like in his pockets or somethin’.”

Lewis said the two men then fled through an alley. He told the jury the shooter was wearing a black T-shirt and a black hoodie under a black jacket, and some type of jeans, perhaps black. Contrary to his statements to police, Lewis said repeatedly that he did not see any faces that night. In addition, he also contradicted his police statement by saying that he only assumed the perpetrators had gone through Carter’s pockets based on seeing Carter’s pockets turned out.

Although Tonia and her sister were yelling at Lewis to leave before the gunman targeted them, Lewis testified that he drove around the corner to follow them. Once he turned onto Saratoga Street, he saw the two men walking out of the alley. At that point, Lewis said he went back to the scene and called 911. He said that as he called 911, he saw the two perpetrators walking across Fulton and Saratoga—even though he had claimed to have seen them come out of the alley on Saratoga Street earlier.

After the suspects were gone, Lewis got out of his car and Tonia and Michele drove away.

Lewis testified that after the police arrived, he told them that the perpetrators were still walking toward Monroe and that “if you back up you will catch the two suspects right there.” According to Lewis, Officer Nelson went around the block before heading up West Saratoga, and by that time, the two suspects had split up. Lewis testified that though he had not seen faces, he saw Morris, who was fidgety and perspiring and moving hastily. He testified that he identified Morris as the non-shooter before being taken to headquarters.

Lewis did not identify Morris in the courtroom and said he was no longer confident that his earlier identification was correct. He insisted that he had not seen any faces and only saw clothes and images because of rain and fog. Even after reviewing his police statement, he said he couldn’t be completely sure that Morris was the same person he saw with the victim. Over defense objection, his recorded statement was played to the jury.

Tonia Martin, who was in the front passenger seat, testified that she saw the entire shooting from when the three men were standing on the side of the mural and the first shot was fired. She said she attempted to dial 911 but dialed 611 by mistake. Tonia testified that she saw the two attackers run into the alley.

Tonia testified that after Lewis got out of the car, Michele took over driving the car. Tonia said that she was unable to identify anyone.

Officer Nelson testified that when he arrived at the scene, three people, including Lewis, were standing over Carter, who was bleeding from his head. Nelson said Lewis claimed he had witnessed the shooting and could identify the suspects if he could get in the car to follow them. Nelson testified that after turning onto Saratoga Street, Lewis spotted a person three houses away and said, “[T]hat’s him, that’s the shooter, wearing a black coat.”

Lewis made this identification while lying down on the back seat of the patrol car, so he could avoid being seen. Nelson testified that as the police car approached, Morris kept looking back at the car and “pulled his pants up as if he was about to run.” Other officers were summoned and Morris was arrested on the front steps of 1912 Saratoga Street as he was “trying to get up into the house,” Nelson testified.

Dr. Carol Allen, assistant medical examiner for the State of Maryland, testified that Carter was shot three times in the head and that the cause of his death was homicide.

James Wagster, Jr. of the police crime lab firearms unit, testified that the bullets he examined that were taken from Carter's body at the autopsy were so mangled that he was only able to determine that they were .22-caliber bullets.

Morris’s girlfriend, Tia Scott, and his father’s fiancée, Deborah Bell, testified that Morris was with his family during the shooting.

Scott lived at 1912 Saratoga Street—where Morris was arrested. She said Morris often stayed with her for a week or two at a time.

Bell testified that at about 5:15 p.m., she drove Morris, his father, and her son from their home to run some errands in their blue Dodge Caravan. On the way, they stopped at Saratoga Street so Morris could retrieve some documents from Scott’s house. Bell recalled that when they arrived at the house, Morris left the van and knocked on the front door. Scott did not answer, so Morris got back into the van. As they were driving away, a neighbor, Martina Lucas, came outside and yelled for Morris to come back, claiming that Scott was home and was probably asleep. Morris left the van and spoke with Lucas, Bell said.

After a few minutes, Bell drove away, leaving Morris there. Later that night, two detectives went to Morris’s home to try to verify that he lived there. Bell testified that the two detectives asked where she had been earlier that day and told her that somebody had seen her van.

Scott told the jury that she was expecting Morris to come by her home to pick up papers for work. The two had been dating for about eight or nine months but had known each other more than five years.

The jury also heard a statement from Lucas that was recorded prior to the trial because she was pregnant and having complications. She said she came out of her house on the day of the incident because she heard someone banging on the door where Scott lived. She said she recognized Morris and that he told her he was there to retrieve some papers. She said she saw Morris get back into the van, which began to drive away. Lucas said she got into her car and drove in the same direction. While waiting at a traffic light, she saw Morris walking back toward Scott’s house.

On August 5, 2005, after two days of deliberation, the jury convicted Morris of two counts of first-degree murder. He was sentenced to 50 years in prison.

In January 2008, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals upheld the convictions and sentence.

In the fall of 2016, the University of Baltimore Innocence Project Clinic (UBIPC), a collaboration between the University of Baltimore School of Law and the Maryland Office of the Public Defender, received the homicide investigation file from the Baltimore police department in response to a Maryland Public Information Act Request. The file contained information relating to suspects that had never been provided to Morris or his defense lawyers.

The file included two notes made by homicide detectives about information that was received a few weeks after the murder that implicated other suspects in the killing. Based on the tip, the police obtained a search warrant for a house located two blocks away from the scene of the murder. After searching the house, police recovered guns and drugs and filed drug and gun possession charges against two men. One of them was the same man that police had been told was one of the perpetrators of the murder. There was no indication in the file that any further investigation was conducted by police.

UBIPC’s additional investigation established that the house that was raided was inhabited at the time of the murder by people associated with the victim, including someone who may have been with the victim just prior to the shooting, as well as the suspect who had been identified by the tipster. Morris had no association or even knowledge of any of the individuals.

UBIPC’s investigation uncovered additional evidence that was previously unknown. Michele Martin-Jones, who was Tonia’s sister and in the back seat of Lewis’s car, was never interviewed by the police or prosecutors. She said that she saw the shooting and noted that she could never identify anyone because she did not see any faces. She said the most she could say was that she thought the perpetrators were Black men. Michele said she and Tonia were shocked to learn that Lewis told police he saw the suspects’ faces.

Moreover, Tia Scott, who testified in Morris’s defense, told UBIPC that she saw Lewis come out of the courtroom after his testimony and heard him declare that he knew Morris was not involved in the shooting.

In November 2018, UBIPC, which had been joined by the Mid-Atlantic Innocence Project (MAIP), requested that the Baltimore City District Attorney’s Office Conviction Integrity Program (CIP) review Morris’s case.

In July 2020, Morris’s lawyers, Michele Nethercott, of the UBIPC, and Frances Walters, MAIP legal attorney, filed a petition for a writ of actual innocence seeking an evidentiary hearing. In response, Lauren Lipscomb, Baltimore City deputy state’s attorney, and Linda Ramirez, CIP chief, filed a response stating that the prosecution could no longer support Morris’s conviction.

In the response, the CIP noted that while there was a .22-caliber weapon seized during the search on the resident of the alternate suspect, it was not linked to the bullets fired during the murder. However, CIP conceded that the information on the alternate suspect was never disclosed to Morris or his defense team.

Based on testimony that Carter’s pants pockets had been searched by the attackers, CIP obtained DNA testing on the pants. Morris was excluded from a mixture of two and possibly three individuals.

“Further findings indicated there is a 75% chance one of the contributors is female,” the CIP response said. “Notably, information provided by the [Carter’s] family suggested a female may have been involved in this incident. While not dispositive on its own, when considered under a totality of circumstances, these results bolster the evidence that suggests Morris did not participate in this incident.”

CIP also interviewed a witness who had accompanied Morris’s girlfriend, Tia Scott, to the trial. The witness said that when Lewis left the courtroom after he finished testifying, he declared, “Now that I see that man in there, I know it wasn’t him.”

CIP also noted that on the day of the shooting, police canvassed the neighborhood and interviewed an 11-year-old boy, identified as A.R., who said he saw the suspects run past him after the shooting. During a 2019 interview with A.R., he said he was on his bike in front of his home on Fulton Avenue when he saw two suspects chasing Carter. He said they rounded the corner and then he heard gunshots. Later, A.R. saw a police car drive by with someone—believed to be Morris—In the back seat. A.R. said that person was not one of the two men who ran by him.

The CIP response noted that Officer Nelson—who drove Lewis around until Lewis identified Morris—in 2004 had engaged in conduct that led to an internal police finding that he was involved in “theft/selling false tags.” CIP noted, “This would have been disclosed to the defense pretrial present day; but, in 2005, it was not. It should also be noted that, after the conclusion of this case, [officer] Nelson came under investigation for selling fake accident and burglary reports leading to a federal conviction for wire fraud.” Nelson was sentenced to 12 months and one day in prison. He also is on the list of police officers who will not be called as witnesses by the District Attorney’s office.

Finally, the CIP response noted that although it was rainy, the ground was muddy and the shots were fired at close range, Morris’s clothing when arrested was not wet, muddy, and contained no blood splatter. In addition, despite the shooting being at close range, Morris was negative for gunshot residue. In fact, his hands had no dirt, blood, or mud on them. He was wearing a black jacket and jeans, not a hoodie, as Lewis described.

The CIP response said that based on the observations of the neighbor, Martina Lucas, Morris “would have needed to leave his girlfriend’s house, meet up with the other suspect—locate the [victim], chase, rob and shoot [Carter]—then walk to 1912 [West] Saratoga to return to knocking on the door. The walking distance from the crime scene to 1912 is approximately 3 minutes 24 seconds.” Lewis and officer Nelson spotted Morris approximately 15 minutes after the murder.

In essence, the prosecution agreed that the scenario that Morris committed a murder and then, 11 minutes later, was standing at a house not far away with no physical evidence connecting him to the shooting appeared highly unlikely, if not impossible. The CIP noted that Carter’s sister supported the prosecution’s position and that during an interview, she said that she had been told not long after the shooting that Morris was not involved. She told CIP that “an innocent person should not be behind bars.”

“[G]iven the information and evidence known now, the State’s confidence in Morris’s conviction has evaporated,” the response said.

On November 3, 2021, Morris’s convictions were vacated, and the prosecution dismissed the case. Morris was released 16 years and three months after he was convicted.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 11/15/2021
Last Updated: 11/15/2021
State:Maryland
County:Baltimore City
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:
Reported Crime Date:2004
Convicted:2005
Exonerated:2021
Sentence:50 years
Race/Ethnicity:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:19
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:Yes*