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Baltimore man convicted in 2021 ambush shooting of city police officer

BALTIMORE (AP) — A Baltimore man was convicted Wednesday of first-degree murder in the 2021 deadly shooting ambush of a city police officer — a verdict the jury reached without hearing evidence about a potential motive during a trial that spanned several days.

Jurors agreed that Elliot Knox, 34, participated in the killing of Baltimore police officer Keona Holley and the fatal shooting of another man, who was found dead hours later in a different neighborhood. Holley was shot multiple times while sitting in her marked patrol car during an overnight shift.

Police detained Knox after identifying him as the owner of a vehicle captured on surveillance footage leaving the scenes. He then gave a statement to detectives in which he admitted to some involvement but identified another man as the shooter: Travon Shaw, who would become Knox’s co-defendant.

Shaw was convicted in October of murder and other charges for his role in the second shooting, but he hasn’t yet been tried in Holley’s killing. The second victim, Justin Johnson, was also sitting in a parked car when he was shot. Johnson’s partner testified that he was close friends with Shaw, but police weren’t able to uncover any relationship between Knox and either victim.

Johnson’s mother, Justina Lawrence, told reporters after the trial that the verdict provided some consolation.

“But it’s not going to bring my son back,” she said. Johnson left behind five children.

Roughly three days of testimony from detectives and other witnesses did little to shed light on why Knox would have participated in the shootings. He announced his decision not to testify Monday morning.

Holley’s relatives said they’re still haunted by that over arching question even as they expressed gratitude for the guilty verdict.

A mother and former nursing assistant, Holley joined the police department in 2019 when she was 37. Loved ones said she was truly a “good cop” who wanted to give back to her community.

“I won’t rest until I know why,” said her sister, Lawanda Sykes. She said she believes someone else sent Knox and Shaw to ambush Holley.

The jury found Knox guilty on eight of nine counts, including two counts of first-degree murder. They found him not guilty on one count of using a firearm in an act of violence — a charge pertaining to Holley’s killing, which likely indicates jurors were uncertain about whether Knox pulled the trigger in that case.

Jurors started deliberating Monday afternoon and submitted a note late Wednesday morning telling the judge they had reached consensus on all but one of the charges. Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Jennifer Schiffer instructed them to keep deliberating.

During closing arguments on Monday, prosecutor Kurt Bjorklund raised doubts about Knox’s credibility, saying the evidence suggests he pulled the trigger in both killings. Investigators found shell casings from a single handgun at the scene of Holley’s killing; they found casings from that handgun and an AR-style pistol at the second shooting scene. Bjorkland said the logical conclusion is that two shooters fired from different vantage points.

“Folks, this was a hit,” Bjorklund said. “This was targeted.”

He said that even if Knox didn’t pull the trigger, he was an accomplice and should be convicted of murder for that reason. Maryland law allows for such a conviction if the prosecution can prove the defendant helped plan the crime or acted in a supporting role.

Without presenting a potential motive, Bjorklund said Knox and Shaw somehow knew where Holley was. He said they drove “straight there and they executed her in her car while she worked.” Evidence presented included cell phone location data that placed their devices at the two crime scenes.

But Knox’s defense attorney, Natalie Finegar, said his admitted involvement in the crimes wasn’t enough to label him an accomplice. She said Knox’s confession was instrumental in helping police solve the killings. He identified Shaw and told them where to locate the weapons.

“He gave everything to them,” Finegar said. “He’s not a hitman. He’s a person who got caught up in a very bad situation and made some very bad decisions.”

She cited Shaw’s reported gang connections and Knox’s apparent remorse. During his taped confession, which was played for the jury, Knox called himself a coward for not trying to help Holley.

The prosecution pointed to dishonest answers during the beginning of the interrogation, when Knox was evasive about his whereabouts and claimed to have lent his car to someone else the night of the shootings. But Finegar said there’s no convincing reason to believe Knox was lying by the end.

Knox faces up to life in prison without parole. His sentencing is scheduled for June 4.

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