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Alex Mann

The Baltimore Sun

February 26, 2024

The trial of one of two men charged in the 2021 fatal shootings of Baltimore Police Officer Keona Holley and 27-year-old Justin Johnson is scheduled to start Monday.

Elliott Knox, 34, faces two counts each of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and use of a firearm in a crime of violence, and related gun charges. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

Attorneys are expected to select a jury Monday, with opening statements likely coming Tuesday. Baltimore Circuit Judge Jennifer B. Schiffer is presiding over the trial, which is scheduled for up to three weeks.

“Mr. Knox has waited a very long time to explain what happened that evening,” his attorney, Natalie Finegar, told The Baltimore Sun. She declined to comment further.

The fatal shootings of Holley and Johnson in the early morning of Dec. 16, 2021, were separated by about 8 miles and less than two hours. To date, police and prosecutors have not publicly provided any insight into a motive for Holley’s killing.

A jury in October convicted Travon Shaw, the other man charged in the killings, of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and use of a firearm in the commission of a crime of violence, along with other gun offenses, in Johnson’s death. Shaw, 34, is due back in court in March for sentencing. It’s not clear when he is scheduled to stand trial for the charges stemming from Holley’s fatal shooting.

His public defenders did not respond to a request for comment.

Holley was working an overtime shift in the Curtis Bay area of South Baltimore when she was ambushed and shot in her patrol vehicle, police have said. Responding to a 911 call around 1:30 a.m., officers descended on the 4400 block of Pennington Avenue, where they found Holley unresponsive. She had been shot four times, including twice in the head.

Detectives canvassed the scene, recovering six .40 caliber cartridge casings, while Holley was treated at the University of Maryland Shock Trauma Center.

Holley, a 39-year-old mother of four, died in the hospital a week later. Family, friends and colleagues remembered her becoming a police officer to help change her community for the better.

As Baltimore grappled with the shocking news of an officer being grievously wounded in a surprise attack on the job, investigators turned their attention to the scene of another homicide that occurred shortly after Holley’s shooting.

Officers responding to a call about gunfire around 3 a.m. found Johnson unresponsive in his 1997 Lincoln Town Car, sitting in the 600 block of Lucia Avenue, which is in Southwest Baltimore’s Yale Heights neighborhood. Johnson had also been shot multiple times, and paramedics pronounced him dead there.

Near Johnson’s car, investigators found one .223 caliber and two .40 caliber cartridge casings — evidence that will be important to the state’s case.

Detectives reviewed video captured by an array of cameras in the area where Holley was gunned down and noticed a car parking about a block away, around the time of the shooting. The footage showed two people get out of the car, walk in the direction of the place Holley’s patrol vehicle was found, disappear from view and then run back to their car, according to charging documents.

Using license plate readers, detectives identified the car as a 2012 Hyundai registered to Knox.

Detectives tracked down the car several hours after the shootings, saw Knox driving it and took him into custody for an interview, according to charging documents.

In an interview with investigators, Knox “admitted that he was present at the shooting of Officer Holley along with Mr. Shaw … and stated that he observed Mr. Shaw fire shots into Officer Holley’s marked patrol vehicle,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing in Knox’s case. “Defendant also stated that Mr. Shaw was responsible for the killing of Mr. Johnson.”

Knox told detectives that Shaw told him “Mr. Johnson owed him money and that he was going to confront Mr. Johnson over the issue,” prosecutors wrote. “Defendant claims that Mr. Shaw approached Mr. Johnson’s vehicle and then fired into it with what defendant described as a loud gun and a little gun.”

During the same interview, Knox told investigators that he stashed the guns at a house in Windsor Mill. Equipped with a search warrant, detectives searched the residence and found a .40 caliber pistol loaded with 11 rounds and a .223 caliber gun loaded with 52 cartridges, according to charging documents.

Firearm examiners who analyzed the guns and the casings found at the scenes concluded that the .40 caliber was used in both shootings and that the .223 caliber was used in Johnson’s killing.

Prosecutors also said an analysis of Shaw’s and Knox’s cell phone data history showed they were in the areas of both killings around the time they occurred.

Shaw, who was a longtime friend of Johnson’s, visited Johnson’s family later on the day of the shooting. Johnson’s sister told The Sun days after the shooting that Shaw comforted Johnson’s girlfriend and played with his young son. She said he asked questions about the case.

“Mr. Johnson’s mother,” prosecutors wrote, “found this behavior strange, as Mr. Shaw had never done this before.”

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