Cornell McKay Sentenced To Twelve Years For CWE Robbery: "I Know I Didn't Rob Her"

Cornell McKay's lawyers say McKay (left) was mistakenly ID'd as the perpetrator of a crime Keith Esters committed.
Adriane Smith -- Cornell McKay's mother -- grasped Tayra Douglas' right hand as Judge Robin Vannoy sentenced her son on Thursday to twelve years in prison. The relatively moderate sentence (prosecutors had asked for 20 years) ended an emotional hearing that featured testimony from the victim of an August 10, 2012 armed robbery. The victim is steadfast in her identification of McKay as the man who robbed her.

"This crime was forced on me," she told the court. "Mr. McKay made bad choices over and over again. I am in no way driven by vengeance. I told my story and my truth and I left it in the able hands of the court and jury."

But McKay's lawyers argue that he's an innocent man. During yesterday's hearing, they cited constitutional issues with his December 2013 trial and cast doubt on the integrity of the police investigation.

See also: Cornell McKay Conviction Upheld By Judge; Post-Dispatch Reporter Compelled to Testify

Pastor Chris Douglas and his wife, Tayra, treated McKay like a son in the months prior to his arrest on August 21, 2012. McKay lived in the basement of their Washington, Missouri home for weeks, and Douglas baptized him earlier that same month. The two attended McKay's sentencing yesterday with enough supporters from their church to fill the courtroom seats.

"Sometimes pastors are supposed to be behind the scenes, praying, on their knees," Douglas told Daily RFT after the hearing. "But there's other times that pastors need to stand up and fight, to blow the horn and expose the corruption that is going on in this justice system. That's what I'm going to continue to do."

Facebook/Justice for Cornell McKay
Cornell McKay (center) with Pastor Chris Douglas and his wife Tayra in August 2012.
See also: Appeals Court Refuses To Delay Cornell McKay Sentencing; Pastor Raises Alibi Questions

The hearing began with testimony from the victim and her husband. The woman spoke at length, describing a life left in shambles after being robbed in front of her Central West End condo eighteen months ago. McKay's arrest and conviction rested almost entirely on her ID of him in police lineups.

"I became a person I didn't know anymore. I was scared to go anywhere or do anything alone, and I felt like a shadow of the independent person I'd always been," she said. "Seeing the light glint off the semi-automatic pistol he pointed at my stomach is a chilling memory I cannot shake."

McKay's mugshot from his August 21, 2012 arrest.
Next to testify was Douglas. He pleaded with the judge that it simply was not in McKay's character to commit a violent crime. Like McKay's lawyers, Douglas alleges McKay was actually framed by detectives who missed arresting the real August 10 robber, Keith Esters -- the same man who shot and killed Megan Boken eight days later in a similar armed robbery in the CWE.

During the hearing, McKay's lawyers' again asked Vannoy to delay the sentencing in light of new evidence, including statements Esters made to Post-Dispatch reporter Jennifer Mann that strongly suggest his connection to the August 10 robbery. McKay's lawyers also accused police of deleting evidence from the victim's cell phone and questioned Vannoy's decision to limit evidence during McKay's trial that, they say, clearly links Esters to the crime.

See also: Cornell McKay's Lawyers Want Megan Boken's Killer To Testify

Vannoy repeatedly stopped McKay's lawyers from presenting their new evidence during yesterday's hearing, explaining that re-litigating the issues of the trial would fall outside the proper bounds of a sentencing hearing.

Attempts to delay yesterday's sentencing were denied by both the state appeals court and the Missouri Supreme Court. Thomas SanFilippo, one of McKay's lawyers, says the next step will be a formal appeal to the state appellate court.

"The battle is just beginning," SanFilippo tells Daily RFT. He says prosecutors are concealing further evidence of how they coerced the victim into identifying McKay. He also contests the victim's claim that she saw McKay's face in daylight during the August 10 robbery, since, he says, the incident actually occurred at night.

Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce called the defense's allegations "baseless and without merit," and reiterated her stance that McKay's trial was fair. (See update below.)

McKay was the last to testify at the sentencing hearing. He thanked Chris and Tayra Douglas and the supporters from their church, and said he felt no bitterness toward the victim or her husband. It was the police, he said, who are responsible for framing him and ignoring Esters' obvious guilt.

"I don't think it's a race issue and I don't think it's a hate crime," he said. "I just believe that she made an honest mistake."

"It's unreal that I have to go and be in a hellish environment for ten or twenty years for something I didn't do, around monsters like Keith Esters," concluded McKay. "I believe in myself, and I stand here today strong-willed. I wake up every morning, in the hell of a cell, and look myself in the mirror... and know that I didn't rob [her]."

Update 11:30 a.m.:Daily RFT spoke with Assistant Circuit Attorney Steve Capizzi this morning about the accusations of misconduct brought by McKays' legal team. In short, Capizzi says most of their arguments were exhaustively dealt with in the December 2013 trial.

"I believe in justice and I believe justice was served in this case. We have credible evidence and a jury of twelve people that I picked and the defense picked and the judge approved of. They found him guilty of this crime."

Continue to read why Assistant Circuit Attorney Steve Capizzi believes McKay is guilty of the robbery.

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It appears that no reporter has challenged Mr. Capizzi on why he thought it was appropriate to state to the court and the jury in his opening statement that the victim left Tower Grove Park at 7:30 PM or maybe closer to 8PM, when he knew for a fact that she had previously established that the last thing she did before leaving the park was to call her husband on her cell phone to let him know she was on the way home. Her phone logs indicate, however, that she did not call him until almost 8:26 PM. Since sundown was at 8:01 PM, it would clearly make a big difference to someone making a cross-racial identification in a traumatic situation if she saw her assailant before sundown, as opposed to nearly 40 minutes after sundown.

It also appears that no one has seen fit to confront Mr. Capizzi with the established information regarding the highly suggestive conduct of 9th District detectives in the identification of Cornell McKay. The victim, in a deposition before trial, indicated that she was shown a picture of Keith Esters for the 1st time approximately 6 months after the robbery ( and 2 days before she was being deposed by the defense attorney. Here is a summary of what she testified to:

   1. She was being shown some new photographs because the prosecutors had learned that the defense was suggesting that there was a mistaken ID and that someone else committed the crime;

     2. The police told her before the deposition that Cornell was an "associate " of Esters and had sold her cell phone to Esters. Police later admitted they had no evidence to support those statements, and, in fact, knew that they were not associated and that Esters' girlfriend had indicated that Esters admitted to her that he had gotten the cell phone by committing a robbery. These false statements by police were clearly meant to convince the victim that she had gotten the ID of Cornell right the 1st time. She even wrote a note on Esters' photo that he looked "similar" to her assailant.

Prosecutors have a duty to be the purveyors of truth and "minister of justice". They have a constitutional and ethical duty to correct false and erroneous evidence, but when is the last time you heard of a prosecutor fulfilling those solemn obligations? Chief Judge Kozinski of the U.S. Court of Appeals, 9th Circuit, recently pointed out in a dissenting opinion that prosecutorial misconduct, including the hiding of evidence of innocence by the prosecution, was an "epidemic" that only courts could do anything about.

jaco1175 topcommenter

He dint do nuffin

Hundley Whittier Joyce
Hundley Whittier Joyce

I pray that if you didnt do it God will turn over a new leaf for you and bring the ones whos guilty to surface and let them pay..just keep praying

Devon L Johnson
Devon L Johnson

Time proves all if he is freed and was actually guilty he'll do something again and get caught or killed,the bad ones always do. However lets stick to beyond a reasonable doubt and make sure innocent people dont do time for someones hunch. Somebody somewhere knows who did it and isnt talking. Community pressure is needed within these young mens cultures to do the right thing.

Bridget Scott
Bridget Scott

they are railroading our black brothers. I read the article in riverfront times. they had to make this case in the name of the defendant. I believe the man is innocent of the trump up charge.

David Enders
David Enders

Not knowing the full extent of the case and going on what I just read in the article. It seems there are grounds for a new trial. There have been many studies that witness and victim id's are not as reliable as physical evidence.

Gary Muich
Gary Muich

Crooked cops and politics at its best! Judge is a moron to!

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