Day: January 12, 2018

Exonerated death row inmate charged with sex trafficking


January 10, 2018

A man who was exonerated from Delaware’s death row has now been jailed on prostitution charges in Hawaii and on federal sex trafficking charges. 

Isaiah McCoy was arrested by Honolulu police on Jan. 3 and charged with two counts of promoting prostitution and one count of criminal contempt. He was indicted in a separate federal case on Jan. 4 and charged with sex trafficking by force.

McCoy’s federal indictment charges that between Dec. 22-26 in Hawaii, McCoy and Tawana Roberts through force and threats “recruited, enticed, harbored, transported, provided, obtained, advertised, maintained, patronized, and solicited” an adult woman into a commercial sex act.

McCoy was ordered to be held in custody pending a detention hearing, which is scheduled for Wednesday. McCoy moved to Hawaii after he was freed.

McCoy was convicted of shooting a Maryland man in 2010 and was initially sentenced to death. He spent nearly seven years in prison before being found not guilty during a second trial.

McCoy was accused of shooting 30-year-old James Munford in 2010 during a drug deal in the rear parking lot of the Rodney Village Bowling Alley. The deal supposedly was for 200 ecstasy pills and crack cocaine, but prosecutors said he pulled a gun and killed Munford.

He was found guilty in June 2012, but his conviction and death sentence were overturned by the Delaware Supreme Court.

The Court found the Superior Court erred by denying McCoy’s challenge to strike a potential juror. McCoy had struck more than a dozen white potential jurors. The judge and prosecutor believes this was a race-based decision, which is impermissible, though McCoy said it was not.

The Court also said the prosecutor made errors by improperly vouching for the credibility of a state witness and cited overall unprofessional conduct during the proceedings.

McCoy faced a retrial in January 2017, and the state offered him the opportunity to plead guilty to manslaughter and a weapons charge, which would have carried a sentence of five to 50 years in prison. McCoy refused, claiming he was innocent.

A judge found him not guilty, and McCoy went free.

“I just want to say to all those out there going through the same thing I’m going through ‘keep faith, keep fighting,” McCoy said. “Two years ago, I was on death row. At 25, I was given a death sentence – and I am today alive and well and kicking and a free man.”

McCoy brought a Delaware teen, 18-year-old Jordan Smith, to Hawaii for what he called “a fresh start.” But in September, Honolulu police arrested Smith on charges including murder in connection with a shooting outside a club in Waikiki.

Jordan, whose bail was set at $1 million, is scheduled to be tried on Feb. 12, according to Hawaii’s electronic court records.

Dontae Morris’ death sentence in Tampa murder vacated by Florida Supreme Court


January 11, 2018

The Florida Supreme Court on Thursday overturned the death sentence of Dontae Morris in the 2010 killing of Derek Anderson in Tampa.

The justices upheld Morris’ first-degree murder conviction, but in a 5-2 decision they ruled that Morris must be resentenced because of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Hurst vs. Florida that the state’s former death penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional because it limited the role of the jury in capital punishment cases.

In its decision Thursday, the court said: “Because the jury in this case recommended death by a vote of 10 to 2, we cannot determine that the jury unanimously found that the aggravators outweighed the mitigators … The error in Morris’ sentencing was not harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Morris is also on death row for the murders of two Tampa police officers, Jeffrey Kocab and David Curtis that occurred 42 days later. Last year, the court upheld the death sentences in that case, which had a unanimous jury.

Anderson, 21, was shot in the back outside his mother’s east Tampa apartment on May 18, 2010. He had just arrived home after doing laundry at a friend’s house, carrying a load of clean clothing in a backpack.

A friend of Morris testified that he called her a few days after the murder and confessed that he shot Anderson. The friend, Ashley Price, claimed Morris told her he and Anderson had argued earlier that day because Anderson was selling marijuana on what Morris considered to be his “turf.”

Police were unable to link Morris to the crime until June 29, 2010, when he murdered Curtis and Kocab during a traffic stop. Curtis, who pulled over a car driven by Morris’ then-girlfriend, discovered that Morris had a warrant for writing bad checks. When Curtis moved to arrest him, Morris drew a gun and shot each officer once.

A Florida Department of Law Enforcement analysis of the two bullets he fired revealed they came from the same gun used to murder Anderson.

On appeal, Morris’ defense argued that his conviction should be overturned. Among other issues, they cited the notoriety of the case and the judge’s decision to keep the trial in Hillsborough County. But the high court ruled that there was no evidence that the jury knew anything about Morris’s crimes before the trial.

The Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office will have to decide whether to seek a new death sentence for Morris in the Anderson case.

He remains on death row for the police killings.

The electric chair could make a comeback in South Carolina


January 10, 2018

The electric chair could make a comeback in South Carolina.

S.C. state senators Wednesday discussed making it easier for the state Corrections Department to carry out death sentences by electrocution – an option that hasn’t been used in nearly a decade.

The proposal is necessary, some senators say, because the state can’t get its hands on the chemicals necessary to carry out lethal injections.

Lawmakers on Wednesday also considered a proposed “shield law” to protect the identities of pharmaceutical companies that provide chemicals for lethal injections. Those companies currently won’t sell to South Carolina, fearing legal challenges, protests and bad publicity.

Neither proposal moved forward Wednesday, but a state Senate committee plans to discuss the ideas more this spring.

South Carolina last used the electric chair in June 2008 for the execution of James Earl Reed. The 49 year old was convicted in 1996 of the execution-style murder of his ex-girlfriend’s parents.

The state hasn’t executed any death row inmates since March 2011. In part, that is because the last of the state’s lethal injection chemicals expired in 2013.

The state can’t execute any of its current 36 death row inmates – all men – unless they ask to be killed in the electric chair, Corrections Department director Bryan Stirling told senators Wednesday.

None of the death row inmates have made that request, Stirling said.

In 2008, Reed, who fired his own defense attorney and unsuccessfully represented himself, was the first S.C. inmate in four years to choose electrocution over lethal injection.

Because it cannot be carried out, South Carolina’s death penalty is ineffective, senators were told Wednesday.

“We’ve had people on death row for over two decades now,” said Stirling, who took over the prisons system in 2013.

One death row inmate is scheduled to be executed later this month but is expected to get a postponement from a federal court so his appeal can be heard, Stirling told the Senate panel. If that delay isn’t granted, the state quickly is approaching an execution it can’t carry out.

“It’s possible that can happen,” Stirling said.

Don Zelenka, an attorney in the state Attorney General’s Office, said at least one S.C. prosecutor has opted not to pursue the death sentence because the Corrections Department can’t do the job.

A proposal by state Sen. William Timmons, R-Greenville, would change that. The former assistant solicitor’s bill would allow the Corrections Department to use the electric chair when lethal injection is unavailable.

State Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said he could support the proposal because it helps corrections officers do their jobs, even though he disagrees with the death penalty, which, critics say, is an ineffective deterrent more often used on minorities and the poor.

“This, to me, is a question about efficiency, not about the death penalty,” Hutto said.

Hutto and others were more skeptical of Timmons’ other proposal, the “shield law.”

Lindsey Vann, executive director of the Columbia-based Justice 360 nonprofit, which represents death-row inmates, called that proposal a “secrecy” law that would “create a state secret out of administering the death penalty.”

Shielding pharmaceutical companies’ identities would absolve them of accountability and create the potential for botched executions, Vann said. “If the government is going to exercise this power … they should do so in a transparent manner and with accountability to the citizens of this state.”

Stirling told senators the state’s electric chair, located at the Broad River Correctional Institution in Columbia, still works.

South Carolina has executed 282 inmates since 1912, including 280 men and two women. Of those executed, 208 were black and 74 were white. The youngest inmate executed was 14; the oldest was 66.

Corrections officials began using lethal injection in August 1995, two months after state lawmakers OK’d the practice.

DEATH ROW AND SC

The dates

1995: S.C. legislators approve lethal injection to execute inmates on the state’s Death Row; however, those inmates can opt for electrocution

June 2008: Late S.C. inmate electrocuted

March 2011: Last S.C. inmate executed by lethal injection

The numbers

282: Inmates S.C. has executed since 1912

280: Men executed

2: Women executed

208: African Americans executed

74: Whites executed

66: Oldest inmate executed

14: Youngest inmate executed

Execution date set for first Indian-origin death-row prisoner in US


JANUARY 12, 2018

The execution of the first death-row Indian prisoner, convicted of killing a baby and her Indian grandmother, has been set for February 23.

In 2014, Raghunandan Yandamuri, 32, was given the death penalty for kidnapping and killing a 61-year-old Indian woman and her 10-month-old grand-daughter.

However, he is likely to get a reprieve because of a 2015 moratorium on the death penalty by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.

Authorities alleged that the killings were part of a botched ransom plot. Yandamuri had come to the U.S. on an H-1B visa.

The local Times Herald reported that even though his execution by lethal injection is set for February 23, he might get a reprieve because a death penalty moratorium previously was put in place by Governor Tom Wolf.

“The law provides that when the governor does not sign a warrant of execution within the specified time period, the secretary of corrections has 30 days within which to issue a notice of execution,” Pennsylvania Department of Corrections said in a news release.

According to the report, Wolf imposed a moratorium on the death penalty in 2015. State officials are awaiting the results of a study conducted by the Pennsylvania Task Force and Advisory Committee on Capital Punishment, before moving forward with any executions.

Pennsylvania has not seen any executions in the last nearly 20 years. Since 1976, three persons have been executed in the States between 1995 and 1999.