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Tim Prudente

The Baltimore Banner

June 4, 2024

There’s agreement around the case that the shooting of Officer Keona Holley was an execution plot. She was ambushed and gunned down while sitting in her patrol car in the middle of the night. Nearly 2 1/2 years and two convictions later, the critical question remains.


Holley’s daughters, mother and sister walked into a Baltimore courtroom Tuesday for one more chance for an answer. Elliot Knox had been found guilty of murdering Holley and faced life in prison. The women stepped forward one by one and demanded an explanation.

“You never said why you did it,” her daughter Kyjonna Holley said.

“The main question that we can never seem to process is ‘why?’” her daughter Kaliyah Holley said.

“Why did you do it?” her sister, Lawanda Sykes, asked. “You’re still not man enough to answer truly.”

When it came his turn to speak, Knox, 34, let loose a rambling, breathless explanation. It was the first time gave his reasons for Holley’s murder, and he went on for more than a half hour. He shouted, gestured and cursed. Courtroom officers stepped in close around him. A big burly man, his hands remained cuffed.

“There are reasons why I chose to remain silent,” he told the courtroom. “It’s a gang hit. … To get involved in the details of this, between getting myself killed, my own family, I didn’t want to talk about this.”

He spoke of a vast and unsubstantiated conspiracy that stretched from the leadership of the Black Guerilla Family street gang to City Hall — a tale that tested the patience of Holley’s family, the attorneys, even the judge.

Knox told the courtroom that gang leaders wanted Holley dead and set him up to be the fall guy. He claimed to have heard on the streets that violence interrupters of Safe Streets, city leaders, even the mayor were in cahoots.

The prosecutor objected. The skepticism was apparent on the face of Baltimore Circuit Judge Jennifer Schiffer.

“It’s allocution. I’m going to let him finish,” she said, referencing a defendant’s right to speak before sentencing.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Ivan Bates issued a statement later saying his office had investigated Knox’s claims and corroborated none of it.

Knox’s attorney, Natalie Finegar, described his childhood in Park Heights as deeply troubled, and one of abuse, hunger and neglect. As an adult, he experienced post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, paranoia and psychosis, according to his attorneys and court records. While awaiting trial for Holley’s murder, he stopped taking his medicine. His former attorney, Chris Flohr, wrote Knox in jail, saying he was “concerned about your ability to act in your own best interest given that you told me via a phone call that you were voluntarily stopping all your psychiatric medications.”

The Baltimore Police Department was supposed to be a second act for Holley. A divorced mother of four, she had debts and money trouble while she worked at a state psychiatric hospital. She enrolled in the academy in her late 30s, graduated and worked patrol in the west side. She was pretty and outgoing. “Mom from the West Side,” some of the neighbors called her.

Holley, 39, had been on the force for two years. She was working an overtime shift on Dec. 16, 2021, and sitting in her patrol car on Pennington Avenue, a lightly populated stretch of rowhouses, corner stores and a bar at the southern edge of the city.

Around 1 a.m., surveillance cameras recorded a car heading up the avenue. The driver turned off before Holley and parked. Two men got out and headed toward her car. They passed in front of a building and out of view of the cameras. Holley was shot multiple times, including in her head. The cameras captured the men running back to the car and driving off.

A license plate reader near the Hanover Street Bridge detected the car. It was registered to Knox.

He admitted to police that he had been at the scene of the crime. He told detectives where they could find two guns. But he denied shooting Holley and said his accomplice, Travon Shaw, had pulled the trigger.

Two years later, last March, a Baltimore jury convicted Knox of murdering Holley. Shaw pleaded guilty to her murder and was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Both men were also convicted of murdering Justin Johnson about 90 minutes later in Southwest Baltimore.

“This was a hit. This was targeted somehow. They knew where she was. They executed her in her car while she worked,” the prosecutor had told jurors.

Investigators had searched Holley’s cellphones and social media pages, but they offered no evidence at trial that either man knew her. Police and prosecutors had no explanation for why she was killed.

Holley’s sister had told reporters her family would not rest.

“Someone sent them to do it. And I’m going to say right here and right now, I’m coming for you. We will find out who you are, and your day is coming.”

Holley was a low-ranking officer. She did not make many arrests. Who would want her dead?

Prosecutors have offered no motive. Meanwhile, public speculation around her killing centers on theories that she had been mixed up in something that made her a target. When a cop is killed on duty, uniformed officers routinely pack the courtroom as a show of solidarity. When Knox appeared before the judge Tuesday, there were no uniformed officers in the gallery.

Still, parsing truth from theory has stumped the investigators and attorneys on the case. Tuesday’s hearing brought no clearer picture.

Exasperation could be heard when Knox claimed, without support, that he had heard Holley herself was a gang member. One of her daughters walked out. Afterward, the judge showed restraint.

“It does not matter whether this court finds credible that version of events,” Schiffer said, adding for Holley’s family, “I’m sorry for what you just listened to.”

She sentenced Knox to life in prison without the possibility of parole.

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