ST. LOUIS • Attorneys for Cornell McKay, whose high-profile robbery conviction here was overturned after he spent nearly three years behind bars, filed a federal civil rights suit Tuesday against police, prosecutors and the city.
It accuses them of conducting a “sham investigation” that failed to follow obvious leads that would have led to the true culprit, of suppressing and falsifying evidence, and of leading a public relations campaign and conspiracy aimed at distracting attention from the mistakes.
The suit seeks unspecified damages for past and future income losses, legal expenses, emotional distress, loss of freedom and reputation and more. It includes due process and defamation claims, among many others.
“As a result of the Defendants’ unconstitutional conduct, (McKay) spent nearly three years incarcerated for crimes he did not commit,” the petition reads. “He was deprived of educational and vocational opportunities, income and suffered severe economic harm.”
Instead of being able to start a family or pursue a career, it says, McKay was “forced to live in a hopeless and confined environment” as he began serving a 12-year sentence in prison.
“How do you ever give a kid that back?” asked one of McKay’s attorneys, James Dowd. A former appellate court judge, Dowd said, “I’ve worked in this system for 23 years and I hadn’t seen anything like it.”
In a statement, Circuit Attorney Joyce said, “While I am aware of the general contents of the lawsuit, I have not been officially served nor have I read it. I have every confidence the courts will find it without merit.”
The city and police department declined to comment.
An appeals court ordered a new trial for McKay, of St. Louis, in December because the jury that convicted him of an Aug. 10, 2012, street robbery didn’t get to hear all the evidence that pointed to Keith Esters as a possible culprit. Esters is now behind bars for killing former St. Louis University volleyball player Megan Boken in a similar holdup eight days later, just blocks away.
Joyce’s office dropped charges against McKay in May, citing the victim’s unwillingness to testify at a retrial. The prosecutor has told the Post-Dispatch that she still firmly believes McKay was guilty.
He was freed after his attorneys convinced a judge vacated a probation revocation that his robbery charge triggered.
In the lawsuit, McKay’s attorneys claim police and prosecutors deliberately ignored the fact that Esters’ girlfriend, Kaylin Perry, ended up with the stolen phone and that she had said Esters admitted getting it in a robbery.
McKay became a target of the investigation because he was loosely connected to someone called on the phone in the days after the robbery. Prosecutors objected to use of Sprint call records that would have showed a call made from the stolen phone to Esters’ girlfriend within 30 minutes of the robbery. It was not included in the records the jury saw.