Devon Little, a 29-year-old Baltimore man who had been sentenced to life in prison for a 2016 murder that he said he didn’t commit, was freed on Nov. 22 after a second jury found him innocent in a retrial of his case.
Some of the evidence brought forward in the retrial, including missteps by the lead detective, was first reported in an investigation by the Trace and BuzzFeed News.
Little said when the jury announced his innocence, “I cried, and I kept crying.”
His mother, Janice Moses, said she was too scared to wait for the verdict inside the courtroom, so she sat on a bench just outside the door. “I was numb. I couldn't move,” Moses said. “When I sat there, I was crying. The jury came out and [a juror] gave me a high five, and she said, ‘Everything is okay.’”
The Trace/BuzzFeed News investigation, published in January, revealed how detectives at police departments across the country often fail to adequately investigate shootings, in part due to staffing constraints.
The story detailed a string of nine shootings that took place in Baltimore between June 2015 and February 2017 that were all connected by a shared victim or suspect. Little was a victim in two of the shootings, and arrested in connection with a third. The Baltimore Police Department had closed two of the nine cases. The first closed case was reopened after the Trace and BuzzFeed’s reporting found police had named a dead man as the perpetrator without any apparent evidence.
The second was Little’s now-overturned murdered conviction, in which he was accused of killing a Levon Stokes, a 26-year-old father of two kids.
To obtain that conviction, the state’s prosecution had relied solely on testimony from three witnesses: Stokes’ mother, his sister, and a friend. No physical evidence linked Little to the shooting.
At the retrial, Little’s defense team presented new evidence, including some information first brought to light through the Trace and BuzzFeed’s reporting. That included the fact that ballistics evidence in case files we obtained showed that the murder weapon had been fired in two shootings that happened after Little was behind bars. The lead detective in the murder did not explore other suspects, including several men that had been implicated in a shooting that nearly killed Stokes just a few months prior. And he failed to run a DNA test on a live round recovered from the murder scene.
Sarah Gottlieb, a public defender, said she also found that Stokes’ mother, Tonia Cox, initially told police four men were involved in the shooting, yet testified that it was only Little who came out of the alleyway to shoot her son. In addition, Gottlieb obtained surveillance video that revealed Stokes’ friend was not standing on the street corner where she claimed to have witnessed the murder.
“What happened to [Stokes’] family was a tragedy. It shouldn't happen to anyone. But Mr. Little was not the person that was responsible for that. He didn't do it, it was innocent. There were so many ways to know that by looking at the video evidence and the physical evidence,” Gottlieb said. “It's our position, still, that the person who killed Levon Stokes is still out in Baltimore right now.”
The Baltimore Police and the Office of the State’s Attorney for Baltimore City did not respond to requests for comment.
Little said he has spent the last few days reuniting with his mother, his 8-year-old daughter, and other family members, adding, “I’m lost for words right now.”