DOVER — A verbal confrontation between Isaiah W. McCoy and a correctional officer thrust a long-running murder case into flux once again, leaving the judge to contemplate declaring a mistrial on Wednesday.
Superior Court Judge Robert B. Young received the Delaware Department of Correction’s version of a statement Mr. McCoy allegedly made to an officer after Tuesday’s trial session.
The judge then considered recusing himself and declaring a mistrial due to its alarming nature.
A decision is scheduled for 9:45 a.m. today.
On Wednesday the court said it was concerned that 29-year-old Mr. McCoy’s alleged threat — “When I get out, and I will get out, I’ll rape your wife and rob your family” — could affect his sentencing decision if the defendant is found guilty.
Mr. McCoy denied using the word “rape” and informed the judge he instead used another graphic verb to describe plans to eventually have sex with the officer’s spouse because he considered himself the better man.
The defendant also reported that he called the officer “a coward,” and claimed he never would have approached him that way “on the streets.”
Judge Young said the alleged statement could provide “a taint that would be very hard to ignore” if there were sentencing after the bench trial.
Defense counsel acknowledged earlier that an investigator on its team was inadvertently distracted as a female acquaintance of Mr. McCoy’s entered an interview room after the trial concluded on Tuesday, leading to a verbal exchange with an officer regarding her presence and ordered removal.
The defendant was reportedly behind Plexiglass in a secured area when an incident unfolded.
The case, charges
Mr. McCoy is charged with first-degree murder, first-degree robbery, second-degree conspiracy, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony after the May 4, 2010 shooting death of Salisbury, Maryland resident James J. Munford during an alleged fatal drug deal turned robbery in a Rodney Village area bowling alley parking lot.
As Judge Young announced plans to analyze his position overnight Wednesday, Mr. McCoy pushed to continue a trial he believed was “already won” due to an alleged lack of credibility of two accomplice witnesses testifying on Monday and Tuesday.
A mistrial, Mr. McCoy argued, would deny the right of a not guilty verdict and end the case based on double jeopardy.
“This trial has been nothing but good to me,” Mr. McCoy said, pointing to prosecutors Greg Babowal and Stephen Smith for properly ministering justice and Judge Young’s reputation as a fair arbiter of facts and evidence.
Mr. McCoy said he was “comfortable” and “confident” Judge Young would “make the right decision.”
The state maintained that double jeopardy would not apply since it was not the source of a potential mistrial, which Judge Young affirmed from his perspective.
A June 2012 conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court due to the actions of a prosecuting attorney and trial judge. Mr. McCoy was once on death row due to the capital murder case verdict.
While Mr. McCoy admitted to being a “gangster” and “drug dealer” in the past, he claimed not to be a “liar” because telling falsehoods are always exposed eventually. That’s why he said his version of interaction with the correctional officer was to be believed.
Also, Mr. McCoy described his own behavior sometimes with an expletive and reasoned that his checkered past on other matters did not indicate he was responsible for Mr. Munford’s death.
Pointing to perhaps 50 described unsubstantiated behavior writeups from the DOC in past years, Mr. McCoy alleged he’s had “constant problems” with staff at James T. Vaughn and Howard R. Young correctional centers. The alleged threats on Tuesday were made without any video evidence, writing or eyewitness confirmation, he said.
The judge said the DOC was correct in passing along information from the alleged incident, and “most of what was heard doesn’t concern me at all” in relation to separating it from arriving at a proper verdict. The alleged threat, however, could be a concern if any sentencing applied, the Court maintained.
On Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Smith said the State was three witnesses away from closing its case.
The morning drama
With his voiced raised to the point of possible contempt earlier in the morning, Mr. McCoy claimed his appointed counsel misrepresented the interview room exchange and demanded to file to become his own attorney.
Judge Young denied the request and said, “Your time for opting to go pro se has long since gone.”
When Mr. McCoy asked “Under what case law?” the judge described him as “on the fringe of contempt.”
The agitated defendant was ordered from the court room and left with several guards. He asked loudly if he was denied “because I am a black man?” and “because I was oppressed by this court before?”
Mr. McCoy referred to what he considered a lack of evidence and facts in the case against him, as well.
While alleged threats were referenced, Mr. McCoy believed the court was “disrespectful” to his counsel in portraying the situation and a “complete disregard of the truth” pushed him to seek self representation.
As Mr. McCoy stated his case loudly, Judge Young told him to “be quiet” and said after the defendant left that “probably” no other judge in the state wouldn’t have held him in contempt. The judge said he “probably should” have cited Mr. McCoy at the time but wouldn’t.
Other charges against Mr. McCoy include possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, and second-degree conspiracy. He has served approximately 6 1/2 years in prison since his arrest shortly after the alleged incident.
As defense attorney Herbert Mondros began to speak before Judge Young regarding the commotion the night before, Mr. McCoy interrupted and expressed a desire to drop his counsel and defend himself, and did not want anyone else to speak for him.
Mr. McCoy had been dressed in a tie for the first two days of the trial, but appeared in Court in prison-issued orange clothing with black DOC letters on Wednesday.
While describing Mr. McCoy as a “smart man” who is “charismatic” and “very likable” at times, defense attorney Mike Wiseman also said the defendant is mentally ill and “his ability to control his emotions isn’t there.” His moods fluctuate, the lawyer said, and there was hope for him to calm down by the afternoon or evening.
Also, Mr. Wiseman offered, Mr. McCoy has been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the trial.
Prosecution and defense discussed options for moving forward and Judge Young suggested the “alternative of a stun belt. I hesitate to go to that extreme but we’re going to have to do what we have to do.”
In parting, Judge Young said, “Everyone should recognize that the leash” is very short for actions moving forward.
In taking safety precautions, Judge Young applauded the DOC for being “very accommodating” even if “not particularly willingly.”
The morning session began at approximately 9 a.m. and ended just a few minutes later as Judge Young ordered a recess until 1:30 p.m.
While Mr. Wiseman hoped to speak with Mr. McCoy, he believed the defendant did not want to meet with them at that point. When they returned in the afternoon, Mr. Wiseman said Mr. McCoy wanted to retain his defense counsel.
Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org