Dance is over for man with a lifetime of missteps

This Just In...

March 11, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

UNTIL JANUARY, Kenya Davis managed to dance around death. Someone tried to kill him on the front steps of his girlfriend's West Baltimore rowhouse Sept. 25, 2000, the day Davis finished one of his numerous stints in jail. Despite five shots being fired, Davis escaped without a scratch. His girlfriend, however, was wounded in her right foot. Apparently, her other boyfriend opposed the idea of Davis being back on the street and tried to express this with a gun.

Davis dodged death at least one other time - on Jan. 2, 1997, inside a barbershop. Anyone who was in Baltimore five years ago will remember the case: Three-year-old James Smith III went with his mother to the Fresh Cuttz barbershop, on Carrollton Avenue, one block south of West Baltimore Street, for his birthday haircut. At 4:52 p.m., a fool with a semiautomatic handgun stepped into the crowded shop and fired toward another man, later identified as Davis. A bullet struck the 3-year-old in the head and killed him.

Within 24 hours, little James became poster child for out-of-control gun violence in the city. After years of 300-plus homicides in Baltimore, emotions crested in those winter days immediately after James' death. People stacked the front of the barbershop with flowers and teddy bears, and asked how much longer this insane waste of human life would continue. It was Kurt Schmoke's last term as mayor, and wild shootings like the one that killed little James - "Boo Boo" to his parents - primed the city for a change in leadership and a fresh attack on violent crime, guns and the drug markets. On Election Day 1999, I heard people still invoking "that little boy in the barbershop" as they made Martin O'Malley mayor.

Kenya Davis, the intended victim of the barbershop bullets, had been sitting next to the boy's mother, a loaded handgun in his pocket. He suffered gunshot wounds to the arm and leg as he ran out of the shop. Police picked him up nearby, on Schroeder Street.

The shooter, 19-year-old Maurice Blevins, was charged with murder.

Blevins had been after Davis since the day before the shooting, accusing him of trying to break into his car, threatening to kill him. To protect himself, Davis bought a loaded 9 mm handgun on the street hours before the shooting. At least that's what he said during Blevins' trial.

But Stanley Needleman, Blevins' attorney, claimed that it was Davis who had been waiting to ambush his client in the barbershop. "Mr. Blevins did not murder James Smith," Needleman told the jury. "Kenya Davis is responsible for everything that occurred in that barbershop."

During cross-examination, Needleman asked why, if Davis feared for his life, he hadn't warned friends who went into the barbershop with him of the imminent danger?

His reply: "I thought it was none of their business."

Blevins was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.

In August 1997, Davis pleaded guilty to handgun possession.

"Davis shows no accomplishments in his life," the pre-sentence report stated, failing to note his successful avoidance of death by gun. "As a juvenile, he seldom attended school. He was found to be hyperactive and disruptive when he [did]. A psychological exam completed in 1992 placed Davis within the borderline range of intelligence with a full IQ of 75.

"It was suspected that Davis was learning disabled, although he did not receive any special educational services while in public school. ... There is no history of substance abuse treatment."

Davis was arrested numerous times as a juvenile for assault and drug possession. He did time in juvenile facilities and, as an adult, in prison. He was on probation for cocaine possession at the time of the barbershop shooting.

"He has been out of control for the past six years, and another period of probation would serve no useful purpose," the pre-sentence report concluded.

A Baltimore Circuit Court judge sentenced Davis to three years in prison.

The killing of James Smith III had a galvanizing effect on people who had become resigned to crime in their broken neighborhoods. People were outraged, and the anger lingered. Folded as it is into the annals of tragedies in Baltimore, there's no way to precisely measure its impact on O'Malley's election two years later. But certainly the barbershop shooting marked a road to a new resolve, restated frequently by the mayor and police commissioner, about breaking the cycle of drugs and guns in the city's poorest neighborhoods.

Kenya Davis did not get the message. Being party to the death of an innocent child did not sufficiently affect him to choose a straighter, brighter path.

After serving his sentence on the handgun charge, he apparently dipped in and out of trouble again, and by the fall of 2000, he was being arrested for a bloody, broad-daylight drive-up shooting on North Carey Street.

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