Last string of hope: North Carolina man's decades-long mission to prove his innocence

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BySamantha Kummerer WTVD logo
Friday, August 25, 2023
North Carolina man's decades-long battle to prove his innocence
For the last three decades, Lamont McKoy has had one goal; to clear his name.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- For the last three decades, Lamont McKoy has had one goal-to clear his name.

"It's some dead weight that's holding me back. And I just want to prove my innocence," McKoy said.

McKoy was charged with first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison at 18 years old.

Today, he's out on parole and trying to better his life. McKoy is trying to buy his home and working to advance his career with hopes of becoming a truck driver.

"I think I'm doing all right, but I want to do I want to do better. I know I can do better," McKoy said.

While he's no longer behind bars, the past still haunts him.

In 1990, McKoy had dropped out of high school and was selling drugs in Fayetteville. He admits he was "no saint" but when police arrested him for the murder of Myron Hailey, he was shocked.

"I did some wrongdoing, but I didn't commit no murder," he said.

Myron Hailey was fatally shot in his car in January 1990. Testimony from his trial claims McKoy and others were at someone's home and stayed at his girlfriend's house at the time of the murder. However, in court, prosecutors said the murder resulted from a drug deal gone wrong and presented one witness who claimed they saw McKoy shoot at Hailey afterward.

Another critical piece of evidence used against him was weeks after Hailey's death the Fayetteville police department pulled McKoy over for a traffic stop. During the stop, they questioned him about Hailey's death. McKoy responded with each question as "I know it." Responses prosecutors later pointed to as a confession in Hailey's murder.

McKoy's sentencing led him down a three-decade-long battle to prove his innocence.

"When I get to prison and people say somebody else supposedly had done it,'" McKoy remembered.

Since his conviction, he's not the only one who has started to question his involvement in the murder.

"Take the word of these sworn officers"

A separate federal task force investigation into a Fayetteville gang, "Court Boys", started unearthing new evidence in Hailey's murder. Evidence, that attorneys fighting for McKoy's freedom said poked holes in the case against McKoy.

"You don't have to take our word in a way for Lamont McKoy's innocence. Take the word of these sworn officers who were conducting this later investigation," said Jamie Lau, the supervising attorney at Duke University's Wrongful Convictions Clinic. "Through the course of that investigation, they uncovered several credible statements from people who witnessed the death of Hailey and knew that death didn't occur at the hands of Lamont McKoy."

A team at Duke University has worked to get McKoy's case re-reviewed for two decades as new evidence emerges. Most of that evidence was already uncovered by law enforcement during the federal task force investigation.

During that federal case, lawyers presented evidence that was never presented in state court during McKoy's trial. Evidence like, the Fayetteville Police Department received two CrimeStopper tips following Hailey's death and both named a different man. Witnesses testified during the separate federal case that they saw that same man shoot at a car after a drug deal went bad. The date and time for that drug deal was never specified. However, Duke Law students later confirmed that Hailey was the only man shot inside a crashed car in Fayetteville from 1986-1995.

"So you got evidence being presented in federal court, conflicting with the evidence that was presented in the state court against McCoy, which is just shocking," Lau said.

During the course of the federal trial, a federal prosecutor told the court that the other man named in the tips was in fact the one that fatally shot Hailey.

Location cards from police also later surfaced that showed that the Fayetteville police were at the exact location where prosecutors pinned the shooting to happen; which means the shooting couldn't have gone undetected by officers.

"That's a piece of evidence that I didn't have when I went to trial," McKoy said.

"This is deeply troubling to me because some of those law enforcement officers were from the very same agency, the Fayetteville Police Department, that had originally investigated the Myron Hailey case, but they didn't sound the alarms that there was a possibility that they had got it wrong, despite the evidence that they were uncovering that potentially the agency did, in fact, get it wrong," Lau said.

Conflicting evidence has continued to stack up over the years. The primary witness who initially claimed to have seen McKoy shoot at Hailey's car, was later determined to be unreliable. One of the detectives in McKoy's case was later convicted of taking bribes from drug dealers in separate cases.

And it keeps going.

Police determined the gun used in the murder was a .357 revolver, but one witness testified that McKoy only carried a .22 handgun. The other man that has been suspected carried a .357 revolver. The other man has gone to prison for drug charges as a result of the federal task force investigation but was never charged with the murder of Hailey.

Despite the wealth of new evidence, McKoy's appeals have continued to be denied and he is unable to get the courts to rehear his case.

Over the past decades, courts have ruled there wasn't enough evidence to justify an appeal or exonerate McKoy. His motions for a new hearing have also been unsuccessful as courts rule that too much time has passed.

"Despite Lamont McKoy having this evidence that law enforcement officers were stationed at exactly the exact time that he was alleged to be committing the murder, our State Court of Appeals denied even hearing an appeal because too much time had passed," Lau said.

Lau said there are a lot of restrictions that hinder the ability of the justice system to make corrections when mistakes might have been made.

"They went after Lamont McCoy. They built a case against Lamont McKoy. And I think there's been a lot of conduct that was done in bad faith. That happens. It happens more than our system should tolerate," Lau said.

However, the process to correct that conduct, falls on the convicted.

Three decades later, McKoy is still fighting.

"Everything is stacked against me," he said.

Recently, McKoy's appeals have continued to be denied. State courts have refused to look at new evidence because claims were brought too late. Appeals to federal courts have been denied because judges have ruled the new evidence is not enough to waive the one-year statute of limitations.

"The system's not backward-looking. And once it's done, it's done and people have confidence in the work that was done in the past, but also this resistance to the notion that they may have made an error in a case," Lau said.

Despite this, Lau and McKoy haven't given up hope and are hoping to appeal to the Supreme Court.

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein delivered the latest blow in their fight this month. Stein recommended that the Supreme Court not review McKoy's case, stating that review is "unwarranted at this time." Stein echoed past arguments that McKoy's case does not have enough new reliable evidence that would be strong enough to meet the legal thresholds needed to prove his innocence.

"I'm the last little, little, little string of hope right now, you know, and it's still like they just keep putting stumbling blocks and stumbling blocks," McKoy said.

Lau filed a response to Stein. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision next month.

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"Ultimately, Lamont McKoy wants his true freedom; wants to not carry the burden of a murder conviction. And he's been fighting for his freedom and for the recognition of his innocence since he was first arrested in 1990," Lau said.

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