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Cornell McKay

Other 2015 Robbery Exonerations
On August 10, 2012, 36-year-old Leigh Deusinger was held up at gunpoint as she parked her car in front of her home in St. Louis, Missouri. The robber took her cell phone and about $50 in cash.

Deusinger decided not to cancel her cell phone service and over the next several days, she compiled a list of some of the phone calls made from the phone by accessing her account online. She copied the calls and the numbers by cutting and pasting from the website and sent the data to police in two lists containing calls from August 10 to August 18, 2002.

On August 18, Megan Boken, a former St. Louis University volleyball player, was robbed and fatally shot three blocks away from where Deusinger was robbed.

On August 20, police submitted the telephone numbers called from the cell phone after it was stolen to CrimeMATRIX, a St. Louis County database that integrates a wide variety of police data from nearly 100 law enforcement agencies in the county. One of the telephone numbers that was called was linked to a man named Lamont Carter.

Carter’s name, in turn, was linked to several other individuals in the database. Police said that the person among them that most resembled Deusinger’s description of the robber was 22-year-old Cornell McKay.

Police showed a photographic lineup to Deusinger and she identified McKay as the robber. On August 21, McKay voluntarily came to the police station and participated in a live lineup where Deusinger again identified him. McKay was charged with first-degree robbery and armed criminal action.

St. Louis Police Detective Anthony Boettigheimer identified one of the people called from Deusinger’s cell phone after the robbery as Kaylin Perry. When police interviewed her, Perry admitted that she and her boyfriend, Keith Esters, had sold the phone to someone at a gas station in Wellston, Missouri.

Detective Boettigheimer retrieved the phone, and employees at the gas station identified Esters and Perry as the people who sold the phone.

McKay went to trial in St. Louis City Circuit Court in December 2013. Deusinger identified him as the robber.

McKay’s defense attorneys attempted to develop the theory that Keith Esters rather than McKay had robbed Deusinger. They tried to present evidence from Kailyn Perry that Esters, Perry’s boyfriend, told her that he got the cell phone during a robbery of a white woman. (Deusinger is white.) They also were not allowed to put on evidence that by the time of McKay’s trial, Esters had pled guilty to the robbery and murder of Boken.

The trial judge limited the defense to presenting testimony from Perry that someone named “Keith” had “robbed somebody” of the cell phone. The judge refused to allow the defense to present evidence that Esters had purchased a silver handgun from Lamont Carter, the man police first began investigating based on the phone calls made from the stolen cell phone. That gun, according to the defense, matched Deusinger’s description of the robber’s gun.

The defense was not allowed to offer evidence that Carter lived with Perry and Ester, that clothes matching Deusinger’s description of the robber’s clothing were found under Esters’ sofa, and that Boken was murdered after she resisted her assailant’s attempt to steal her cell phone.

Perry was allowed to testify that she did not know McKay and had not seen him before coming to court. But the judge prevented the defense from presenting a log of all phone calls made to and from the stolen cell phone after the robbery. That log showed that a call was made from the phone to Perry 30 minutes after Deusinger was robbed and that a call was made to Carter the following day. The records showed that nearly 20 calls were made to Perry on the stolen cell phone over the next several days.

On December 12, 2013, the jury convicted McKay of first-degree robbery and armed criminal action. Prior to sentencing, McKay’s defense lawyers moved for a new trial, arguing that police targeted McKay to cover up their failure to identify Esters before Boken was murdered.

The defense argued that if the police had tracked the cell phone calls immediately after the robbery they would have identified Esters before Boken’s murder, and that the judge had erroneously barred the cell phone records.

“Once the victim’s mobile phone was recovered, the police were in possession of probable cause and significant evidence against Keith Esters. Had they arrested Esters, Megan Boken would still be alive,” the motion said. And if the call log had been admitted in evidence, “The jury would have been given powerful evidence of a motive by investigators to cover up their lethal mistake by framing another suspect.”

The motion was denied.

In December 2014, the Missouri Court of Appeals overturned McKay’s conviction and ordered a new trial. The court held that the trial judge should have allowed the defense to present the evidence pointing to Esters as the true perpetrator of the robbery of Deusinger.

The court held that “the erroneous exclusion” of the cell phone records and the additional evidence pointing to Esters was a “manifest injustice.”

In 2015, McKay’s defense filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing that the prosecution had failed to disclose to McKay’s trial lawyers a statement Esters gave after his arrest for the robbery and murder of Boken. In the statement, Esters admitted that he had been in the area at the time of the Deusinger robbery and that McKay was not the robber. Esters also made the same admissions to a newspaper reporter during an interview from prison.

On May 6, 2015, St. Louis City Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce dismissed the charges against McKay, although she insisted that she believed that McKay was the robber. Joyce said the charges were dismissed because Deusinger declined to testify at a retrial. In 2015, McKay filed a federal lawsuit against the St. Louis Police Department and several of its officers, but the lawsuit was dismissed in 2019. The dismissal was upheld on appeal.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/11/2015
Last Updated: 6/19/2020
County:St. Louis City
Most Serious Crime:Robbery
Additional Convictions:Illegal Use of a Weapon
Reported Crime Date:2012
Sentence:12 years
Age at the date of reported crime:22
Contributing Factors:Mistaken Witness ID, Official Misconduct
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No