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Sherman McCoy

Other Philadelphia Conviction Integrity Unit Exonerations
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On September 17, 2013, police were called to a home at 1336 North Dover Street in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Lester Lanier said that men wearing masks and carrying guns broke in and robbed him and his brother, Curtis. Lanier accused the residents across the street of committing the home invasion. One of those residents was 18-year-old Shaheed Jackson.

The following night, police were called back to the same block and found Jackson lying between a car and the sidewalk on front of 1331 North Dover Street—diagonally across the street from Lanier’s residence. Jackson had been shot 14 times. Police recovered five .380-caliber shell casings, nine nine-millimeter shell casings and bullet fragments.

On October 8, 2013, Philadelphia Police Detective Phillip Nordo, after learning that the Lanier brothers believed Jackson was involved in the home invasion/robbery, and after receiving a tip from an informant that Lester Lanier confessed to killing Jackson, brought Lanier in for questioning.

By that time, Lanier was in custody on an unrelated matter. Lanier claimed he saw the shooting, and that the gunmen were Sherman McCoy, an intellectually disabled 20-year-old, and another man whose last name was Mack. Nordo put out the word that he wanted to talk to McCoy. On October 15, 2013, an officer spotted McCoy in a parking lot and arrested him.

McCoy was kept in an interrogation room all night without being questioned. At 6:45 a.m. on October 16, Nordo entered the room, and less than two hours later, he said, McCoy confessed. Nordo contended that McCoy told him that Lester Lanier and Mack shot Jackson and that he was trailing behind them, carrying a gun that he never fired.

McCoy was arrested and charged with first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder, and possessing a weapon. Lanier and Mack were never charged in the murder.

In September 2016, prior to trial, McCoy sought to suppress his confession during a hearing before Philadelphia County Common Pleas Judge Stephen R. Geroff.

McCoy’s attorney, Jack McMahon, argued that McCoy was unable to knowingly waive his Miranda rights because he had a serious intellectual disability. He presented evidence that at age nine, McCoy’s IQ was determined to be 54—well below the benchmark of 70 used to quantify intellectual disability. According to the evidence, a test administered in 2016 put his IQ at 58. His literary comprehension was at a second-grade level.

Before Nordo questioned Lanier, Nordo knew that Lanier suspected that Jackson robbed him the night before. A source had also told Nordo that Lanier had admitted to the murder. Nevertheless, Nordo testified at the suppression hearing that when he questioned Lester Lanier, he “didn’t necessarily have an idea” that Lanier was involved in the murder, suggesting that Lanier was simply a witness.

Nordo said that while questioning McCoy, he did not notice that McCoy suffered from any impairments. He did concede that McCoy took 27 minutes to read the six-page statement that Nordo had written out. Nordo testified that he had “an idea” that McCoy was actually reading the statement, because McCoy had told Nordo that he could read, although “slowly.”

Judge Geroff denied the defense motion to suppress the statement, although he conceded the decision was “difficult.”

On September 20, 2015, McCoy’s trial began. Nordo testified to the statement he took from Lester Lanier that implicated McCoy and Mack in the murder. Nordo said that Lanier told him that the day after the home invasion, he discussed with Mack and McCoy that Jackson was one of the robbers. Lanier said that Mack said Jackson had to be “hit.” When they saw Jackson emerge from his house, all three began walking fast toward Jackson. Mack began shooting and Jackson fell. Nordo testified that Lanier also accused McCoy of shooting.

During a break on the second day of the trial, McCoy’s lawyer, McMahon, brought to the court’s attention a police report. The report said that on October 3, 2013, Nordo had received information from his source that the gunmen were two men named “Les” and “Pooda” (Lanier’s and Mack’s nicknames). McMahon and the prosecutor, Louis Tumolo, then talked to Nordo, who said he was concerned that disclosing the identity of the source would put her in jeopardy. McMahon asked that the source be produced in court, which never happened.

During subsequent cross-examination, Nordo admitted that the source—who he said was reliable—told him that Lanier “was in fact a shooter.” Nordo did not say how the source knew this information.

McMahon asked Nordo if Lanier had been subpoenaed as a witness in the trial and Nordo replied that he didn’t see him in the courtroom.

When prosecutor Tumolo re-questioned Nordo, he suggested that the source was not a witness to the crime. McMahon objected and again asked that the source be produced. The judge denied that motion and ordered the prosecutor’s remark stricken from the record. Tumolo then asked Nordo if Lanier would have to have been given immunity from prosecution to testify. The defense objected, but Nordo was allowed to agree Lanier would have needed immunity. Nordo did concede that granting immunity was Tumolo’s responsibility and beyond the scope of a detective’s role.

After Nordo completed his testimony and the prosecution had finished presenting evidence, Tumolo disclosed to the judge and McMahon that the source knew that Lanier and Mack were the shooters because Lanier and Mack both admitted to her that they shot Jackson.

On September 28, 2016, the jury convicted McCoy of first-degree murder, conspiracy, and possession of a weapon. McCoy was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

In the spring of 2017, another case in which Nordo was a critical witness—a weapons possession charge against Gerald Camp—collapsed when evidence was discovered that Nordo had conspired with the sole witness in the case to frame Camp. The evidence suggested that the witness, Rhaheem Friend, had a sexual relationship with Nordo.

Camp’s conviction was vacated and the case was dismissed in April 2017. Nordo was fired immediately thereafter.

On July 3, 2018, following an investigation by the Philadelphia County District Attorney’s Office, a pending murder case against Darnell Powell was dismissed. That prosecution had been based primarily on a statement taken from an intellectually disabled witness whose ability to comprehend the statement was suspect.

Several days later, McCoy’s appellate attorney, Karl Schwartz, filed McCoy’s opening appeal brief in the Pennsylvania Superior Court challenging McCoy’s conviction and sentence. He indicated that based on the evidence of Nordo’s corruption, he would file a motion to remand the case back to the trial court for further investigation.

Meanwhile, in December 2018, following an investigation by the Conviction Integrity Unit, the 2012 murder conviction of Jamaal Simmons was vacated and the charges were dismissed. Evidence showed that Nordo pressured the primary witness to falsely implicate Simmons.

At Schwartz’s request, McCoy’s case was remanded back to the trial court in January 2019. On February 19, 2019, Nordo was charged with an array of crimes, including having sex with informants, stalking, and theft. The investigation of Nordo revealed that as early as 2005, Philadelphia police were aware of complaints against Nordo accusing him of misuse of informants and inappropriate sexual coercion. Internal investigations had resulted in no discipline.

On April 4, 2019, the Conviction Integrity Unit chief Patricia Cummings dismissed the 2012 murder conviction of James Frazier, who falsely confessed while being interrogated by Nordo. And the Conviction Integrity Unit was examining McCoy’s case. Cummings discovered that in fact Lanier had been immunized in 2014, more than two years before McCoy’s trial. Cummings turned the evidence over to Schwartz, who filed a motion for new trial on April 30, 2019.

In the motion, Schwartz noted that at trial, McCoy’s defense attorney had argued that the prosecution did not call Lanier as a witness because Lanier was not truthful when he implicated McCoy. The prosecution had responded by telling the jury that Lanier needed immunity to testify—the suggestion being that Lanier did not have immunity.

“In fact, Lanier had been granted immunity two-and-one-half years earlier,” Schwartz’s motion said. “The prosecutor’s argument to the contrary was both false and prejudicial.”

The motion also claimed that Nordo’s testimony that he had no idea that Lanier was involved was false, in light of the disclosure near the end of McCoy’s trial that the source told Nordo that Lanier and Mack had admitted they were the gunmen.

The motion said that “the only evidence tying McCoy to the incident in this case is the testimony of a detective with as florid a history of coercing and confabulating confessions as any police official in recent memory.”

On May 9, 2019, McCoy’s convictions were vacated. Cummings dismissed the charges and McCoy was released.

– Maurice Possley

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Posting Date: 5/22/2019
State:Pennsylvania
County:Philadelphia
Most Serious Crime:Murder
Additional Convictions:Gun Possession or Sale, Conspiracy
Reported Crime Date:2013
Convicted:2016
Exonerated:2019
Sentence:Life without parole
Race:Black
Sex:Male
Age at the date of reported crime:20
Contributing Factors:False Confession, Perjury or False Accusation, Official Misconduct, Inadequate Legal Defense
Did DNA evidence contribute to the exoneration?:No