Shortly after noon on September 30, 1998, two men burst through the door of the trailer home of Trevor Jefferson and his girlfriend, Shiwanna Mazyck, on Nonnie Curve Road in Orangeburg County, South Carolina.
One of the men ordered Mazyck to the floor at gunpoint and the second man, who had dreadlocks, covered her head with a pillow. The gunman walked into the bathroom, asked Jefferson, 21, his name and fired four shots, fatally wounding him. Both men then fled.
At first Mazyck said she did not know the man who held her down, but later said he looked familiar, but did not know his name.
The driver of a school bus passing by about 12:20 p.m. said she saw a burgundy car with Florida license plates near the home and two men, one with short dreadlocks, were standing next to it. Another man was inside the car. A teacher’s aide who was also on the bus said one of the men outside the car appeared to have a gun.
Police found a burgundy car with Florida license plates at the home of Ronald Duggins, who said he had given a person named “Cory” a ride on the day of the murder. He said he didn’t know Cory’s last name, but that police had a photo of him. Police then looked through police photos, beginning with the letter “A” and came upon a photo of 27-year-old Cory Credell.
A photo lineup containing Credell’s photo was shown to Mazyck and she identified him as the man who put the pillow over her face. The gunman was never identified. Duggins later identified Credell in a photo lineup as well.
Neither the bus driver nor the aide were able to identify Credell.
Police matched a fingerprint print on the burgundy car to Credell. A warrant for his arrest was issued. On June 6, 2000, Credell was pulled over in North Carolina for a traffic violation and when a records check turned up the warrant, he was taken into custody and sent to Orangeburg County.
Because of the public defender’s office had a conflict, Jane Berry Osborne was appointed to defend Credell, although she had never tried a criminal case and only experience in criminal law involved a guilty plea in a drunken driving case. Her experience at the time was limited to bankruptcy and family practice law.
Credell went on trial on May 15, 2001.
Mazcyk identified Credell in court. She said she had seen Credell before, speaking with Jefferson, behind their trailer two or three months prior to the shooting.
There was no physical evidence linking Credell to the crime and the murder weapon was never found.
Duggins was called by the defense—the prosecution had determined that he told numerous lies during the investigation—in an attempt to discredit the police investigation.
Duggins said that he had known Credell, Mazyck and Jefferson and that they all knew each other. He said he had grown up with Credell in New York City.
Duggins testified that he was driving the burgundy car, which had been rented by his cousin, on Nonnie Curve Road on the day of the shooting when two men flagged him down. He said he told police their names were “Cory” and “Vic,” but that he had made up both names. He said he was not referring to Credell and that Credell was not one of the two men.
Duggins also said he falsely identified Credell in the photo lineup. He said that by then he had been arrested on misprision of a felony in relation to the case and when Coleman told him that Mazcyk had already identified Credell, he went along with it because he believed he would get favorable treatment. The misprision charge was later dropped and he was released.
Credell testified in his own behalf and denied involvement in the shooting. He said he was in New York City on the day of the shooting had had been living there where his mother was a New York City police captain since 1997.
He presented a record showing he was employed as a forklift operator from July 29, 1998 until December 9, 1998—two months after the shooting.
Credell explained his fingerprint on the car by saying that Duggins had driven the burgundy car to New York to visit him and that he helped work on it on September 30, 1998—the day of the shooting.
Credell admitted to a history of drug selling, several misdemeanor convictions for drug sales and possession, several other arrests that did not result in convictions, as well as an armed robbery conviction. He also admitted that he and Jefferson had sold drugs together in the past.
A police officer testified that a day or two after the shooting Mazcyk told authorities that she had heard the man with the dreadlocks in the shooting was Edward Pelzer.
Credell’s mother, Evangeline Credell, testified that Cory was living with her in New York from 1997 through 1998 and that they spoke almost every day.
A jury convicted Credell of murder and burglary on May 17, 2001. He was sentenced to two concurrent terms of life in prison.
Credell’s conviction was upheld on appeal in 2003. A post-conviction petition for a new trial was filed in state court in 2003, alleging that Credell’s trial counsel had provided inadequate legal defense on several grounds, including failing to bring in other alibi witnesses from New York and allowing Credell to testify in his own behalf and expose his criminal background.
Following a hearing in 2006, the petition was denied, although the judge conceded that Credell’s lawyer had admitted she was unaware that she could apply for trial subpoenas for out of state witnesses and expenses for their transportation to the trial.
In 2008, Credell filed a federal petition for a writ of habeas corpus, alleging ineffective assistance of trial counsel on a broad range of issues, including the failure to call alibi witnesses.
On July 11, 2011, a federal judge granted the writ and ordered a new trial. The judge noted that Credell’s trial lawyer mistakenly thought the prosecution could bring out Credell’s prior record whether he testified or not. The lawyer also admitted she had not known she could request subpoenas for out of state witnesses.
The judge ruled that Osborne’s “striking ignorance of state evidence law profoundly affected the course” of the trial. The introduction of Credell’s background information was “profoundly prejudicial” and “destroyed any suggestion of a meaningful defense.”
Osborne also admitted she had spoken to Credell’s girlfriend in New York City and that the girlfriend was able to provide a specific alibi for the day of the murder. Osborne never sought her testimony, however.
Credell was released on bond on November 22, 2011, pending a retrial.
On August 20, 2012, Orangeburg County prosecutors dismissed the case.
– Maurice Possley