St. Louis Record

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Court rules that man was not maliciously prosecuted in 2013


By John Breslin | Apr 5, 2019

A man who spent three years in prison after being convicted of the armed robbery of a woman has failed in his suit for malicious prosecution against the City of St. Louis, individual police officers and the police board.

A federal court granted summary judgment to the defendants in the case taken by Cornell McKay, who alleged destruction and fabrication of evidence and denial of his constitutional rights during his 2013 prosecution and conviction. District Judge John Ross of the Eastern District of Missouri ruled that the defendants did not destroy evidence and were not reckless in their prosecution of the plaintiff. 

The robbery was linked by investigators to the murder of former St. Louis University volleyball star Megan Boken, for which another man was convicted. McKay, whose conviction was vacated by a Missouri appeals court, sued the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, individual officers, the city's Board of Police Commissioners, its members, a parole officer and the city.

The roots of the case lie in an incident that happened in August 2012, when a woman was robbed at gun point in the Central West End area of the city. She handed over a phone and $50 in cash.

Both Jane Doe and her husband, who saw the robber as he walked a dog nearby, told police they "had gotten a good look" at the man, described as a light-skinned African man, aged 16-20 years of age, 6-feet, 3-inches, and 150 pounds. Further, the cell phone remained activated.

Later that month, Boken was killed just three blocks away in what homicide detectives believed was similar to the Doe robbery. The detectives asked for the cell phone records, which showed calls to various individuals, including McKay.

Jane Doe identified McKay as the robber, though John Doe did not recognize any of the six men in a photographic line up.

After a wanted poster was issued, McKay surrendered himself to police. He was accompanied by a clergyman, who gave the plaintiff an alibi and named several other witnesses placing McKay in a different place at the time of the robbery.

After the Does identified him as the robber, McKay was charged with the firs- degree robbery and armed criminal action. At the same time, detectives investigating the Boken murder checked the Doe cell phone records, which led them to questioning Keith Esters. He confessed to the murder but not to the robbery.

One witness, Esters' girlfriend Kaylin Perry, told detectives that he had come to her residence one night with a phone and $50, and told her that he murdered Boken. The cell phone was used to dial Perry's number numerous times following the robbery, court documents state.

"Based on the identifications of Plaintiff ad (sic) the person who committed the robbery and despite Plaintiff’s cooperation, the statements from the homicide detectives, Perry, Esters, and the gas station employees, the Circuit Attorney proceeded to trial on the Doe robbery and, on Dec. 12, 2013, a jury convicted him," Ross wrote. "The court sentenced Plaintiff to 12 years in prison."

McKay was released in 2015 after the Missouri Court of Appeals vacated the convictions, ruling that the trial court made an error in granting the "prosecution’s motion to exclude any reference to Esters and remanded the case." The state dropped the case after Doe refused to testify.

The plaintiff claimed destruction and fabrication of evidence, reckless failure to investigate, conspiracy to deprive him of constitutional rights, and false arrest under state law.

Ross granted summary judgment to the defendants, ruling that the claim that Doe's cell phone was destroyed was not supported by the evidence, that police did not coach a witness, that a jury could not find that the police "recklessly failed to investigate," that his constitutional rights were not violated, and all parties were protected by qualified immunity.

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