(CN) – The Supreme Court on Thursday agreed to take up the case of a Louisiana death row inmate who claims a trial court violated his right to a fair trial by refusing to let him fire his attorney and represent himself.
Robert Leroy McCoy was convicted after a 2011 jury trial of three counts of first-degree murder and was sentenced to die.
According to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which heard his case on appeal, McCoy and his wife, Yolanda Colston separated in April 2008 after an incident of domestic battery.
Colston took the couple’s children with her, leaving her son, Gregory Lee Colston, with her parents, while she moved into protective custody in another state with her infant daughter.
On the night of May 5, 2008, McCoy showed up at the Bossier City, Louisiana home of the grandparents, Willie Ray Young and Christine Colston Young, and demanded to see his wife.
In a frantic 911 call, Christine Colston Young could be heard screaming ‘She ain’t here, Robert․ I don’t know where she is. The detectives have her. Talk to the detectives. She ain’t in there, Robert,'” the court documents say.
A gunshot was then heard on the 911 tape and the call was disconnected. By the time McCoy left the house, both Youngs were dead and Gregory Lee Colston was gravely wounded. He died later at a local hospital.
McCoy initially escaped, hitching rides with truck drivers in a cross-country bid to get away and reach a relative’s home in California. He was tracked down and arrested in Lewiston, Idaho, then extradited to Louisiana to stand trial.
Once the trial was underway, McCoy told the court an issue had arisen with his public defender, and he wanted to represent himself until his family could hire another attorney.
The judge allowed this, but when the new attorney enrolled as counsel, he told the court he was not certified to handle death penalty cases. The judge asked McCoy if he understood this, and the accused said he did and that he wanted the trial to proceed.
However, there were immediately complications. McCoy had filed a pro se motion for a speedy trial, but his new lawyer sought a continuance.
McCoy and his attorney also disagreed on strategy, and the lawyer told the judge that he was having difficulty assembling a legal team and a panel of experts to assist him with the case.
Then, on the eve of the trial, McCoy told his lawyer he wanted to fire him and began issuing pro see motions and other documents in the case. The lawyer stayed and tried to assist McCoy, by the accused continued to do as he wished, even testifying about “the vast conspiracy” that he said led to his being on trial for his life.
After his conviction, McCoy filed an appeal premised on his having inadequate counsel, his being unable to effectively represent himself because of it, and procedural problems stemming from these two other conditions.
In all, McCoy raised sixteen assignments of error.
In a lengthy, 139-page ruling and concurrence, the Louisiana Supreme Court upheld McCoy’s conviction and sentence, holding that “after a thorough review of the law and the evidence, we find no merit in any of the assignments of error.”
McCoy then filed a petition for a writ of certiorari from the Supreme Court.
As is their custom, the justices did not explain their reason for taking up the case.