Civics – War on Society: Baltimore Edition

Sean Kennedy:

Baltimore isn’t the country’s murder capital—that distinction belongs to St. Louis—but it’s close. Charm City has recorded more than 2,500 homicides since 2015. Many of these killings could have been prevented, my analysis of court records and police data suggests, if the justice system had worked as intended. 

Look no further than the case of Deonte Walker, convicted of the January 2020 murder of Justin Antonio Johnson. Less than three years before the killing, Mr. Walker was charged with at least 10 counts, and possibly more. (Under a 2020 Maryland law, criminal charges that don’t result in a conviction are suppressed from the state’s judiciary case search tool.) The office of State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby cut him a deal in exchange for a guilty plea to two charges: robbery and conspiracy to commit robbery.

Although Mr. Walker faced a maximum sentence of 15 years for each count, he received only two years and was freed months before he killed Johnson. He was found guilty in December 2021 of second-degree murder and firearms offenses and sentenced to 50 years in prison.

Using a database of homicide defendants provided by the transparency nonprofit Baltimore Witness, I analyzed the criminal histories of 110 suspects charged with homicide in Baltimore between January 2019 and July 2020. My analysis indicates that the majority of the city’s murders didn’t have to happen. 

Ninety of the defendants whose histories I examined had previously been convicted of an offense carrying a sentence of three or more years in prison. Most didn’t serve anywhere near that time. They were back on the street when the homicides they are charged with were committed, but they should have been behind bars.