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Alex Mann

The Baltimore Sun

February 28, 2024

The suspect began confessing in a dimly lit hallway outside a bathroom in the Baltimore Police Department’s Homicide Unit, his voice barely rising above a whisper.

By then it was creeping into the evening of Dec. 16, 2021, and detectives had spent the previous two hours in a nondescript interview room, with Elliott Knox sitting across from them on the other side of a small table, peppering him with questions about separate shootings early that morning that left a city police officer grievously wounded and another man dead.

Officer Keona Holley, who had been shot in the head, was fighting for her life in the hospital, the detectives told Knox, and they were getting fed up with the unconvincing story he was telling.

Prosecutors played footage of the entire, four-hour interview during Knox’s trial in Baltimore Circuit Court this week on charges stemming from the shootings of Holley, who died in the hospital about a week after being shot, and 27-year-old Justin Johnson, who died in his car that morning in Baltimore’s Yale Heights neighborhood.

Knox, 34, faces two counts each first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and firearms offenses stemming from the killings. A jury in October convicted the other man charged in the killings, Travon Shaw, of all of those charges in connection with Johnson’s death, but he has yet to stand trial on charges in Holley’s fatal shooting. Shaw, also 34, is due back in court in March.

After jury selection Monday, Shaw’s trial began in earnest Tuesday. During opening statements, the prosecution and defense told jurors to interpret the interrogation to different effects.

Assistant State’s Attorney Kurt Bjorklund said Knox was lying and minimizing his role in the shootings the whole time. But defense attorney Natalie Finegar said the state couldn’t disprove Knox’s story, and thus it was “still entirely possible that what my client said is what happened.”

In court Wednesday, the interrogation video showed detectives trying to reason with Knox “man to man,” and confronting him with the evidence they had against him — his car was captured by license plate readers near the scene of Holley’s shooting and videos showing two men, including one fitting his description, getting out of the car and running back to it.

“If I cooperate on the level y’all are looking for,” Knox said, “it’s like this, the possibility of jail time is there. The possibility of beef with affiliated people in jail is there. … Most of the time, this stuff is like death penalty, life type stuff.”

He continued to deny any role in either shooting. Then, he asked to use the bathroom.

As Knox emerged from the bathroom, he said something to investigators so quietly that Detective Ceaser Mohamed’s body camera barely picked up the sound.

Bjorklund paused the video with Detective David Moynihan, who did the interrogation with Mohamed, on the witness stand. The prosecutor asked Moynihan what transpired in the hallway, and the detective said Knox, for the first time, admitted to being at the scene of the shootings. After the brief translation, Bjorklund pressed play again.

“Where’d you put the guns at?” Moynihan could be heard saying on the video.

Knox’s response was inaudible.

“You’re telling me you didn’t pull the trigger once?” Moynihan continued.

Knox could be heard telling detectives he didn’t want to be on camera, but the investigators convinced him to return to the interview room.

Soon, Knox began describing the two guns he and Shaw used that night: a Glock 22 handgun, which shoots .40 caliber bullets, and an AR-style pistol, which fires .223 caliber rounds.

“It says ‘Extar’ where you put the clip in,” Knox said of the pistol, before clarifying for the detectives. “E-X-T-A-R, and then it says 556.”

Knox told the detectives he took the guns to a house in separate backpacks, and placed them in a bedroom closet. When he couldn’t remember the address, the detectives pulled up a map on one of their phone’s and Knox pointed it out on the map. Police got a search warrant for that house and sent officers to that address while the interview continued.

“Why her?” Mohamed asked of Holley.

“He never told me. … I don’t even know who that lady is. I didn’t even know it was a lady until today,” replied Knox, maintaining that Shaw was the person who shot Holley.

Bjorklund told jurors at the trial’s outset that the evidence would convince them Knox shot Holley. But Finegar contested that, saying he came to that conclusion by making assumptions, relying on the fact that Knox was the second man captured on video running back to the car parked about a block from where Holley was found shot in Curtis Bay.

Investigators collected six .40 caliber casings from the 4400 block of Pennington Ave., where Holley had been before her patrol car crashed through a fence and came to rest in a park.

A medical examiner testified Holley was shot twice in the left side of her head, with the bullets damaging several parts of her brain. One projectile came to rest in her neck.

Police found two .40 caliber casings and one .223 caliber casing around the place Johnson was killed in his 1997 Lincoln Town Car.

The same medical examiner said Johnson had six gunshot wounds, all to his back. Bullets damaged his spine, lungs and heart.

From the start, Moynihan testified, detectives suspected two gunmen shot Johnson, given the different types of ballistics evidence. Bjorklund said to jurors in opening statements that the evidence would reveal Knox as one shooter, while Finegar suggested that Shaw used both guns in the shooting.

During the interview, Knox told detectives he stayed in the car, then that he was outside when he heard Shaw open fire.

“It definitely was not two people. You heard the small s*** first,” said Knox, referring to the sound of different guns.

Knox told detectives that Shaw killed Johnson because Johnson owed him $100. He said Shaw told him before the shooting that he was “going to holler at” Johnson.

A different detective soon entered the room to administer aphoto array and found Knox crying.

“She’s probably somebody’s mother,” Knox said of Holley, who had four children, before pleading with the detective to tell him how much prison time he could face.

The detective laid photos on the table and read Knox instructions.

Knox flipped through several photos before he landed on one he recognized. “This is Travon Shaw … He was the one who shot the officer.”

Moynihan and Mohamed returned to the interview room after the photo array and, by that point, had more information to share with Knox.

“Just like you said. We got the guns,” Moynihan said.

In court Tuesday, another homicide detective testified about the cache police found at the houses they searched, in addition to the backpacks containing guns, magazines, masks and gloves. The searches also turned up boxes of different caliber bullets. There were gun-cleaning kits. There were standard and high-capacity magazines.

According to charging documents, police firearms examiners concluded that the recovered Glock 22 likely fired the .40 caliber casings fired at both scenes and that the AR-style pistol fired the .223 casing found where Johnson was shot. The detective who testified about the searches showed jurors the homemade “brass catcher” affixed to the pistol to catch casings ejected each time the gun fired.

Back in the interview room, Moynihan and Mohamed pressed Knox about why the men ambushed Holley. They wanted to know whether there was a connection, if Shaw or Knox had some grudge against the officer.

“There’s gotta be some other explanation,” Mohamed said.

“I’m telling you,” Knox responded, “I don’t have anything.”

The hours-long interview ended minutes later, and the case’s most compelling evidence yet failed to answer its greatest mystery.

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