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Dillon Mullan, Alex Mann, Darcy Costello

The Baltimore Sun

March 6, 2024

A Baltimore jury convicted a 34-year old man Wednesday of first-degree murder in the 2021 killing of police officer Keona Holley and a 27-year-old man later the same night.

Elliot Knox was found guilty on eight of nine counts charged in the killings of both Holley and Justin Johnson within about 90 minutes early one morning in December 2021and faces life in prison.

Charged with two counts each of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder as well as firearms offenses in the killings, Knox was only found not guilty in the use of a firearm in Holley’s death. His trial starting last week spanned roughly four days. The jury has had the case since Monday afternoon.

“We go home tonight in peace. We have a forgiving heart, but we know that it’s not up to us to forgive,” said Lawanda Sykes, Holley’s sister. “That rests with God. We have no ill feeling or no ill will. We don’t wish them any harm. That’s not for us to decide.”

Another man, Travon Shaw, 34, was convicted in October of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and firearms offenses for Johnson’s death. He is due to stand trial in Holley’s killing later this month, and to be sentenced for the case surrounding Johnson. His public defender previously declined to comment.

“No matter what happened, it wasn’t going to bring my son back, but it is some consolation that they came back with the guilty verdict,” said Justina Lawrence, Johnson’s mother.

Last week, prosecutors described the killing of Holley and Johnson, as “executions” in closing arguments. Assistant State’s Attorney Kurt Bjorklund said the state believed Knox pulled the trigger in both shootings.

Knox’s attorney, Natalie Finegar, however, argued in trial that it was possible Knox did not pull the trigger. He had told police, after initially denying his involvement, that he was present at the shootings, but an accomplice shot both people.

“We were a bit surprised, but what we needed to happen, happened. So the one that didn’t come back, it’s not going to hamper anything, we’re not upset about that,” Sykes said of the verdict and the one not guilty count.

Holley, a 39-year-old mother of four, was ambushed and shot twice in the head around 1:30 a.m. Dec. 16, 2021. When she was shot, her patrol car rolled down a nearby embankment and into a park in Curtis Bay.

She was working an overtime shift for Baltimore Police at the time, having joined the department in 2019 at the age of 37 to help change officers’ relationship with the community. She died about a week later in the hospital.

“He committed a senseless and heinous act against a Baltimore Police Department Officer and it is my hope that this verdict brings a sense of closure and peace to Officer Keona Holley’s family,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Richard Worley said in a statement.

Johnson was gunned down around 3 a.m. the same day. Six bullets were fired into his back while he sat in his 1997 Lincoln Town Car in Baltimore’s Yale Heights neighborhood. He died at the scene.

According to police, a license plate reader picked up a vehicle registered to Knox. Camera footage captured that night showed the silver Hyundai park around the block from Holley’s patrol car and two men exit, first walking in the direction of Holley’s car then running back.

Knox was detained within hours and spoke to investigators, waiving his Miranda rights. For about two hours, he denied involvement in the shooting. He then confessed to being present but said Shaw pulled the trigger in both shootings. He also told police where he’d hidden the two guns used in the shootings.

“The City of Baltimore and the women and men of the Baltimore Police Department have waited a long time for this verdict. The heartless murders of Officer Keona Holley and Justin Johnson shook Baltimore to its core,” Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates said in a statement. “There is still more work to be done as we approach the trial date for the co-defendant in this case.”

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