Isaiah McCoy walked out of a Delaware prison a free man in January 2017, five years after being convicted of murder and sentenced to death.
A judge found him not guilty at a retrial, and McCoy soon began enjoying the limelight that came with his exoneration. He reveled in speaking engagements before lawyers associations and anti-death penalty groups.
“People were loving my story,” McCoy said.
But in less than a year, he is back behind bars. Now he’s in a detention center in Hawaii, charged with seven counts of sex trafficking.
He said from the Honolulu Federal Detention Center that he’s again accused of a crime he didn’t commit.
Prosecutors say McCoy became a pimp after moving to Hawaii and that he threatened and coerced young women into prostitution. They call his arguments for dropping the charges, including vindictive prosecution, “baseless.”
A Tuesday hearing is scheduled on McCoy’s motion to dismiss the case.
McCoy seemed to have some direction and hope when he was released from death row. He was able to hug his daughter — conceived right before he went to prison — for the first time.
McCoy’s exoneration also thrust him into a spotlight he always craved, and he moved to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career.
“He’s a powerful speaker,” said Magdaleno “Leno” Rose-Avila, executive director of Witness to Innocence, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that opposes the death penalty. “He’s especially powerful with youth.”
While McCoy was in L.A., a University of Hawaii law student contacted him about speaking at a criminal justice reform rally she organized at the state Capitol. McCoy thought it would be a good opportunity to visit his mother and siblings who had moved to Hawaii.
He ended up staying.
While working as a security guard for a Waikiki hotel, McCoy started dating a woman who he says worked as a stripper and prostitute.
McCoy said he and the woman had a falling out, and she went to the Susannah Wesley Community Center — a nonprofit association that helps trafficking victims — and lied about McCoy in exchange for a plane ticket out of Hawaii. The other alleged victims did the same, he said.
“All of these females were prostitutes before I met them,” McCoy said. “Why would I have to force someone to do what they’re already doing?”
McCoy’s Army soldier wife, Tawana Roberts, is a co-defendant in the federal case. They wed six days after meeting at a Honolulu nightclub. She has pleaded not guilty and hasn’t responded to a request for an interview in the same detention center.
Roberts is charged with prostitution in a separate case in state court. According to police documents in that case, McCoy was actively pimping in Hawaii since December.
In January, authorities conducted a sting involving an undercover officer who set up a meeting in a Waikiki hotel room. Roberts and another woman who showed up with her were arrested.
The next day, a federal grand jury returned a sealed indictment charging McCoy and Roberts with one count of sex trafficking. Another indictment later added six more counts.