From [HERE] and [HERE] Isaiah McCoy, a Black death row prisoner for years, walked out of the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington a free man Thursday night after a judge found him not guilty of murder in his second trial.
Isaiah McCoy, a death row prisoner for years, walked out of the Howard R. Young Correctional Institution in Wilmington and into his young daughters' embraces on Thursday night just hours after a judge found him not guilty of murder in his second trial.
Outside the prison's barbed wire fence and heavy doors, McCoy, 29, became emotional as he reunited with his girls and with the team of attorneys and an investigator who helped get him acquitted of the 2010 killing of 30-year-old James Munford.
"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."
A spokesman for the Department of Justice said prosecutors were disappointed by the verdict from Kent County Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young.
“While we are disappointed with the outcome of this case, we respect the decision of this court. This was a difficult case and the court indicated the basis for its decision at the time of the verdict," spokesman Carl Kanefsky said.
The path to McCoy's acquittal has been long.
He was accused of shooting Munford to death during a drug deal in the rear parking lot of the Rodney Village Bowling Alley on May 4, 2010. The deal was supposed to be for 200 ecstasy pills and crack cocaine, but during the transaction, McCoy pulled out a gun and shot Munford, according to prosecutors.
A jury found McCoy guilty in June 2012, but the Delaware Supreme Court later overturned his conviction and death sentence.
The court did so because former Deputy Attorney General R. David Favata demeaned McCoy in front of the jury and lied to a judge during the death penalty trial, the court said. Favata was suspended from practicing law in Delaware as a result. However, Favata had already retired from the state in March of that year.
Favata’s conduct at the trial led the state Supreme Court to overturn the conviction and death sentence for the 28-year-old defendant, Isaiah McCoy, earlier this year.
Favata made demeaning comments such as “start acting like a man.” In another conversation about McCoy’s court attire [wearing a suit in court], Favata said: “I don’t care. You can dress him up. He’s still a murderer.”
Favata also, while in the presence of McCoy during a court recess, spoke about "Omerta," an Italian mafia code of silence. Favata said he would put a detective back on the stand to tell everyone that McCoy was a snitch and added that McCoy could have trouble back in prison after the other inmates learn he is a snitch, the documents said.
McCoy alerted the judge to the comments, but Favata denied them. Then, the prothonotary, who was in the room and overheard Favata’s comments, was disturbed that Favata lied to the judge and wrote a note saying McCoy was telling the truth. Favata eventually admitted the comments were meant to be heard by McCoy, according to court documents.
In addition, reversible error occurred when the prosecutor improperly vouched for the credibility of a key witness for the State. We also address the pervasive unprofessional conduct of the prosecutor that permeated these proceedings and compromised McCoy’s right of self-representation.
The instance of improper vouching is itself unusual and seemingly indicative of the state’s general comportment in the case. It occurred during the defendant’s questioning of one of his alleged accomplices. The prosecutor, Favata, objected to a particular question, saying aloud in the presence of the jury, “She obviously hasn’t spoken to the defendant since he shot her boyfriend.”
[T]he prosecutor improperly vouched for Williams’ testimony by expressing his personal opinion that McCoy was guilty…the comment made here implied that the prosecutor had superior knowledge unavailable to the jury…The prosecutor implicitly and inappropriately corroborated Williams’ testimony and endorsed her credibility. As such the prosecutor’s objection constituted… prosecutorial misconduct.
With McCoy facing a retrial because of the conduct, Deputy Attorneys General Greg Babowal and Steve Smith gave him the option to plead guilty to manslaughter and a weapons charge, which would have carried a sentence of five to 50 years in prison. He refused the deal and proclaimed his innocence.
"He trusted the judge to look at the evidence, and the judge looked at the evidence and saw the two accomplices were not credible," McCoy's attorney, Herbert Mondros, said.
The trial opened last Monday with accomplice, Deshaun White, taking the stand. White, who received a sentence reduction for his cooperation in the case, is serving a 13-year prison term at the Sussex Correctional Institution for charges related to Munford's death.
Attorney Michael Wiseman, also representing McCoy, spent hours questioning White on inconsistent stories he gave to law enforcement and a jury in McCoy's first trial.
At one point in the week-long trial, it looked as though the judge would recuse himself from the case and order a mistrial after McCoy allegedly made a comment to a corrections officer that he would have sex with and rob the officer's wife.
After contemplating the issue over night, the judge allowed the trial to continue and issued the verdict in the case around 2 p.m. Thursday. The judge noted the law on accomplice testimony and found the witnesses told conflicting stories that were uncorroborated by evidence.
Mondros said McCoy was extremely emotional as the verdict was read in court.
"Imagine a guy who had just spent the last six-and-a-half years on death row, in isolation, to now be essentially exonerated," he said.
Mondros also was on a team that represented another death row inmate, Jermaine Wright, who was freed last year. Wright spent 20 years on death row before the Supreme Court overturned his 1991 conviction for the killing of 66-year-old Phillip Seifert, a liquor store clerk. He was allowed to plead not contest to second-degree murder on the eve of his retrial.
Mondros, Wiseman and investigator Phil Primason met McCoy outside the prison about seven hours after the verdict was read. They loaded boxes of legal documents into the car, as McCoy hugged and laughed with his daughters.
McCoy said he planned to spend the next days with his daughters and to let his new situation sink in.
"Give myself some time, and then I'll be ready to tackle the world," he said.