US Supreme Court Refuses Appeal For Police Killer

Seth P. Waxman for petitioner

"People can walk themselves into jail", Justice Sonia Sotomayor said. "They can walk themselves, regrettably, into the gas chamber". Moreover, McCoy's brother and two longtime friends told police that he confessed his guilt to them.

A lawyer can be silent on some of his client's claims, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said. "But the rest of these complicated matters, whether it's elements, whether it's this, whether it's that, we leave, at least for now, we leave to the law schools, the bars, the ethics classes and the others because we don't want to freeze the answer into the Sixth Amendment".

Despite overwhelming evidence against him, McCoy steadfastly maintained his innocence, alleging that the killings were the product of a drug deal gone bad and that police conspired to frame him because he supposedly revealed their involvement in drug trafficking.

Kagan continued: "But the question is, when that happens, does the lawyer have to step back and say: You know what?" His parents then hired Larry English for $5,000.

Mere days before the trial, English told McCoy for the first time that he would concede to the jury that McCoy committed the murders, hinging the defense on McCoy's mental capacity. But his attorney, Larry English, believed that the evidence against McCoy was "overwhelming", and that his best chance to save McCoy's life was to concede McCoy's guilt and try to convince the jurors that McCoy hadn't meant to kill anyone.

The strategy, which sought to get McCoy life in prison instead of death, backfired: he was convicted and sentenced to death in 2011 for the 2008 murders of his estranged wife's mother, stepfather and son.

McCoy - who insists he is innocent - is now seeking a new trial on grounds that English went against his wishes. Indeed, in his opening argument, he told the jury, "There is no way reasonably possible that you can listen to the evidence and not come" to that conclusion.

Finally, English embarked on a strategy of conceding his client's guilt, in hopes of avoiding the death penalty.

Was McCoy mentally competent to stand trial?

Can a lawyer concede any element? Jurors were told that the accused was guilty of a triple murder - but the lawyer making that statement was not the prosecutor; he was the defense attorney.

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Louisiana's Murrill proposed the state's own rule to the justices: "In a narrow class of death penalty cases, counsel sometimes might be required to override his client on a trial strategy when the strategy that the client wants counsel to pursue is a futile charade and requires him to defeat both their objectives of defeating the death penalty".

Gorsuch questions whether lawyer who conceded...

Chief Justice John Roberts said defense lawyers should not have to back up their clients' claims if they don't agree. But in a case like this one, in which the defendant says he has an "overriding objective" of not admitting that he killed his family members, she queried, why can an attorney "say it doesn't matter". The attorney emphasized, however, the court does not have to decide the issue to rule in McCoy's favor.

McCoy is now asking the Supreme Court for a new trial, arguing that the trial court violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel by allowing his lawyer to confess his guilt against his wishes.

Since this standard requires a party show both deficiency and prejudice, Murrill said McCoy's case is baseless. She also disputed that McCoy's main objection was to avoid admitting to killing family members.

"I would describe it more as though he said I know a better way to cross this divide, and we're going to cross it by letting me drive this auto over the cliff because the vehicle will fly", Murrill said.

But Justice Elena Kagan, echoing Waxman's earlier point, noted English's decision ignored McCoy's goals in the case.

Murrill countered that the lawyer's "ultimate objective is to try to do the right thing for his client, to defeat the death penalty and save his life".

At the same time, Fox readily acknowledged, the result may be that some defendants are executed who might have been able to avoid the death penalty by pleading guilty or not guilty by reason of insanity.


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