A Bossier City murder case has reached the Supreme Court of the United States.
Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill made oral arguments before the high court last week in the matter of Robert McCoy v. Louisiana. The U.S. Supreme Court will consider whether the choice McCoy’s defense attorney at the time, Larry English, made was unconstitutional: does a defense attorney have the authority to concede guilt even when the defendant expresses the clear opposition?
English admitted to the jury that McCoy was guilty in an attempt to avoid the death penalty – even though McCoy told him not to do that. However, McCoy, 44, was found guilty of first degree murder in August 2011 for the murders of his estranged wife’s mother, stepfather and teenage son.
He was sentenced to death by lethal injection and now sits on Louisiana’s death row. The court ruling prompted McCoy to argue that his attorney was not acting in his best interest when telling the jury he was guilty without his consent.
The case has since gained national attention.
Police believe McCoy was waiting outside a Bossier City apartment in 2008 when one of the victims stepped outside to smoke a cigarette. McCoy barged in looking for his wife.
Police arrived and found the three people shot in the head, each in different locations throughout the apartment. The victims were Christine Colston, 55, Willie Ray Young, 50, and Gregory Lee Colston, 17.
McCoy led authorities on a multi-state manhunt. Investigators said McCoy fled Bossier City the night of the shooting. He hitched rides on 18-wheelers that took him to Texas, Arkansas, Washington and Idaho, where he was eventually captured three days later. Officials believed he was heading to California to visit with relatives.
McCoy attempted suicide twice after his capture — once while in prison in Idaho and once while in prison in Bossier. A Bossier judge ruled that McCoy was mentally competent to stand trial in November 2008.
McCoy appealed unsuccessfully to the Louisiana Supreme Court, arguing that his attorney betrayed him and that the lower court wrongly denied his request to replace English with a new attorney, or alternatively allow him to represent himself. The court had ruled that the request — filed two days before trial was slated to begin — was untimely.
The Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed McCoy’s convictions and sentences in 2016, endorsing the trial court ruling that “counsel could decide to concede guilt over his client’s objection where conceding guilt was a reasonable strategy in the face of overwhelming evidence.”
Louisiana Solicitor General Liz Murrill is part of the Louisiana Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Landry. She and others from General Landry’s Office have been working with District Attorney Schuyler Marvin of Louisiana’s 26th Judicial District Court to defend the case.
“This is a case with a complicated pre-trial history and significant competing policy interests; it simply boils down to the fact that when a defendant chooses to have an attorney represent him, he gives that attorney the right to shape his defense,” Murrill explained. “That does not mean lawyers have a blank check – all lawyers should respect and defend their client’s objectives in a case; but these cases are frequently very complex.”
The U.S. Supreme Court is now tasked with deciding whether McCoy deserves a new trial. A ruling is anticipated by the summer.