Former death row inmate Isaiah McCoy is a free man after the government dropped its sex trafficking case against him.
Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway ordered McCoy’s immediate release from the federal courthouse this morning.
McCoy, 30, had been in custody with no opportunity for release on bond since January, when a federal grand jury returned an indictment charging him and his now-former Schofield Barracks soldier wife Tawana Roberts, 36, with trafficking an adult female for prostitution.
That same grand jury returned updated indictments in February and June charging McCoy with trafficking six more women and charging him and Roberts with trafficking a minor girl. The last indictment also charged McCoy with producing child pornography and tampering with witnesses.
Honolulu police say in state court records that they started investigating McCoy after receiving information from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that links McCoy’s prostitution activity to a fatal shooting outside a Waikiki nightclub in September last year. A McCoy associate is awaiting retrial in state court for murder.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Brady told Senior U.S. District Judge Susan Oki Mollway on Tuesday that the investigation failed to meet standards of law enforcement and his office.
Mollway had previously dismissed a sex trafficking charge involving one of the alleged victims after the chief investigator, Homeland Security Investigations Special Agent Cole Masutani admitted that he failed to turn over 133 text messages between him and the woman and failed to keep records of the communications.
McCoy denies pimping prostitutes. He said in open court, however, that he didn’t force anyone to sell sex for money. He said the women were prostitutes before he met them and continued to prostitute themselves after he was arrested. Sex trafficking involves the use of force, threats of force, fraud or coercion.
Believing that the government was not prepared, McCoy asked to go to trial as soon as possible with a judge, not a jury, deciding his fate. Roberts also elected to have a non-jury trial.
McCoy also chose to be his own lawyer. Roberts was represented by court-appointed counsel.
At one point McCoy said he would admit to everything in the indictment after misinterpreting legal precedent from another case. He believed that the government needed to prove he was a pimp before coming to Hawaii.
Mollway commented that because of McCoy’s experience with the criminal justice system, he is confident in his ability to represent himself, perhaps over-confident.
The trial started in September with one of the alleged trafficking victims testifying about communications between her and Masutani that neither the defense nor prosecution were aware of. Mollway dismissed the charge involving that witness. Both sides became aware of more undisclosed evidence as more witnesses testified.
Because of the continuing late disclosure of government evidence, Mollway contemplated last month but ultimately decided against dismissing the case. She said because there is no jury, she can halt the proceedings to give the defense time to investigate evidence as it receives them. Mollway said she can also recall witnesses. She said this as the trial was about to go on an agreed-upon one-month break.
The trial was supposed to have resumed today. During the break, the government dropped all charges against Roberts and dropped the charges involving the minor girl against McCoy. The trafficking and child pornography charges involving the girl would have been the toughest for McCoy to defend against.
Also during the break, Masutani said for the first time, under oath, that a cellphone, which he used to communicate with the alleged trafficking victims, had been destroyed and replaced with another cellphone.
Brady told Mollway last Thursday that an HSI lawyer later gave him new information suggesting that Masutani lied.
McCoy was sentenced to death in 2012 after a state jury in Delaware found him guilty of a drug-related murder. That state’s Supreme Court overturned the conviction and sentence, and on retrial a state judge found McCoy not guilty last year and set him free.