East Baton Rouge Parish’s district attorney said Monday a 23-year-old man “got away with murder” last week when a judge acquitted him in a 2014 shooting death.
After several months of deliberations, state district court Judge Trudy White on Wednesday found Tajh Harris not guilty of second-degree murder in the July 12, 2014, shooting death of Javontia Davis, 24. Although Harris’ attorney hailed the ruling, police and prosecutors say they won’t reopen the case or look at new suspects because they’re confident their initial investigation targeted the right man.
“We’re very confident that he is the killer, the only one, and that he got away with murder,” said District Attorney Hillar Moore III, who said he “respectfully disagreed” with White’s findings.
“We believe the case was proven, the police arrested the right person and that we proved his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt,” Moore said. “There’s no reason to reopen the case. The killer was put in jail and found not guilty.”
Baton Rouge police will consider tips or other new information in the case, said Baton Rouge police spokesman Lt. Jonny Dunnam, but won’t be reopening the case.
“We feel like we had the right guy,” Dunnam said.
Ronald Haley, who represented Harris at trial, said he believed in his client’s innocence throughout the proceedings and that a lack of direct evidence against his client as well as questionable, inconsistent testimony from witnesses led to Harris’ acquittal.
“I’m extremely happy for my client and his family that he’s going to be home for the holidays,” Haley said. “I believe that justice was rendered with the judge’s verdict.”
Attempts to reach White for comment Monday were unsuccessful. The judge read from a lengthy written ruling in court Wednesday while issuing the verdict, but copies had not yet been filed or provided to attorneys on the case Monday, and staff for White told an Advocate reporter that a copy of the verdict wouldn’t be available until Tuesday.
Davis’ body was discovered just before 2 a.m. lying in the road near his home in the 2600 block of Wenonah Street. Baton Rouge police officers working a traffic detail were patrolling nearby when they heard gunfire and arrived to find Davis already dead of a gunshot wound to the chest.
Although three witnesses to the shooting said they didn’t know the name of the shooter, they told detectives they’d recognize the man if they saw him again. After an anonymous Crime Stoppers tip named Harris as the killer, two of the three witnesses picked Harris’ picture out of a six-photo array.
At the scene, detectives recovered a slew of shell casings from two handguns. One of the weapons, a .45-caliber gun, was recovered later as part of an unrelated investigation; the 9 mm weapon that killed Davis was never recovered.
Although neither weapon was directly linked to Harris, Assistant District Attorney Will Jorden said plenty of evidence pointed to Davis owning a handgun in that caliber, and that Harris’ cousin testified to seeing him with it earlier that day and placed Harris at the scene of the shooting.
Witness accounts of the shooting shifted dramatically over time, said Haley, the defense attorney, pointing to serious questions about the reliability of the state’s case.
“The stories (the witnesses) gave shortly after the incident took place versus the testimony that was given at trial completely contradicted themselves and contradicted the physical evidence collected at the scene,” Haley said.
Harris was licensed to carry a weapon and had no prior criminal record, Haley said, adding that even if his client had fired the fatal shots — a point Haley didn’t concede was standing — this could have been a strong case of self-defense.
“A gun was pulled and fired toward my client,” Haley said. “If that’s not the definition of standing your ground and of self-defense, I don’t know what is. I don’t think it gets any more clear than that.”
In issuing the verdict, Moore said, the judge focused on a handful of inconsistencies but largely ignored other key pieces of evidence.
Since the verdict was issued Wednesday, Harris — who’d remained in jail ever since his arrest on July 17, 2014 — has been enjoying his first taste of freedom in well over a year.
“He was sitting there fighting for the rest of his life,” Haley said. “A lot of plans he had were deferred during that time. Now it’s about pulling the pieces back together. He’s very thankful and very grateful to have what he feels is a second chance.”