Jury Finds Defendant Charged in 2020 Ambush Killing Guilty

Baltimore Courthouse

After deliberating for about four hours, a 12-person jury found Clifford Knight guilty of first-degree murder on Aug. 13 at the Baltimore City Circuit Court. 

Knight, 24, was also found guilty of second-degree murder, use of a handgun in a violent crime, and possesion of a handgun in a vehicle. The jury did not find him guilty of conspiracy to commit murder, nor carrying a handgun. 

Prosecutors alleged that Knight lured 26-year-old Ronald Lewis to a midnight ambush on May 14, 2020. The shooting took place on the 100 block of Violet Hill White Way, just across the street from the University of Maryland’s School of Pharmacy.

The prosecution’s case relied on a mountain of circumstantial evidence, arguing on Friday that “too many coincidences is no longer a coincidence; it’s evidence of guilt.” 

On the other hand, Knight’s defense attorney, Robert Cole Jr., insisted that the state lacked both necessary physical evidence and eyewitness identification of his client.

“The state wants you to make a leap of faith” despite “zero direct evidence,” he told the jury. 

In addition, he said that because Lewis was a drug dealer, he was in an “extremely dangerous situation,” meaning that other individuals could have had motive to kill him. 

Cole highlighted that, in the two weeks leading up to the shooting, “27 different people” had contacted Lewis to purchase various narcotics, including fentanyl, heroin, cocaine, and oxycodone. 

Cell phone records played a pivotal role in the trial, establishing Knight’s possible motive, as well as his connection to the murder weapon and suspected car. And critically, to place him in the area of the crime on the night in question.

Knight’s alleged phone was registered under his mother’s account, but the contact name in the victim’s phone for that number was “Cliff Cuz.” 

An FBI analysis used the amount of time it takes a phone to connect to the cell tower in order to determine a possible radius of where the phone is at the time of connection.

Two phones of interest, Knight’s and the man later arrested with the murder weapon,  were linked to within .01 miles of the scene of the murder at the relevant date and time. 

The two phones were then tracked moving together to a location in East Baltimore. 

However, Knight’s defense attorney, Robert Cole Jr., argued that the analysis could only indicate the “general geographic area” of the phone’s location. During closing arguments, Cole went even further, arguing that “some people call it junk science.” He also said there was no way to determine whether Knight was in possession of that phone at the time of the homicide. 

The phone account associated with “Cliff Cuz,” presumably the defendant, was cancelled just six hours after the shooting. 

According to Aug. 11,  the owner of the car had three calls with Knight on the days leading up to the shooting.

Prosecutors also showed a connection between Knight and the 26-year-old man who was eventually arrested with the murder weapon. In fact, the lead detective said, Knight had called him twice in the two hours prior to the murder. 

A review of the victim’s cell phone records also allowed the state to offer a possible motive for the shooting. Text messages showed that Lewis had sold Knight narcotics that the defendant alleged were counterfeit. 

FaceTime, call, and message history indicate that Knight’s alleged phone repeatedly contacted Lewis on the night of the murder to coordinate a drug buy, with his last call to Lewis occurring about 15 minutes before the shooting. 

Prosecutors allege that the “meeting” was in fact an ambush. When a black sedan pulled up to the meeting site, Lewis got out of his car to talk to the people inside of the vehicle. A witness testified that, a few minutes later, gunshots rang out and the car sped off.

The medical examiner (M.E.) tasked with Lewis’ autopsy said that the gunshot wounds were “rapidly fatal,” causing death in as little as one minute. Lewis was shot in his left cheek, severing his carotid and jugular arteries and causing massive blood loss. Additionally, he suffered a gunshot to the neck, which injured his spinal cord.

Pinpoint-like abrasions caused by gunpowder residue also indicated that the shooter was likely 12 to 18 inches away from Lewis, the M.E. said, suggesting the shots were fired from inside a car. 

Cole argued that such a determination was not the M.E.’s expert opinion on this particular shooting but rather a “rule-of-thumb” guess based on the injuries. 

The 26-year-old  found with the murder weapon has not been charged in connection to Lewis’ death. 

Judge Martin P. Welch presided over the trial.