Fayetteville, N.C. — Lamont McKoy has spent half his life behind razor wire for a crime he and others claim he didn't commit.
Law students at the Duke University Innocence Project are trying to help him demonstrate that.
McKoy was convicted in 1990 of the drug-related shooting death of Myron Hailey in Fayetteville. Police found a Honda Accord crashed in some trees off Rowan Street. The car had two bullet holes in the back, and Hailey was dead.
Police said Hailey was shot during a drug deal in Haymount Hill and drove to where he died.
"I did do some dealing in drugs in my past," McKoy said, saying that his past led to his arrest.
Investigators found no physical evidence linking McKoy to the crime. Instead, jurors convicted him largely based on a police interview in which McKoy said, "I know it" and on witness testimony from Bobby Lee Williams.
McKoy said he doesn't regret turning down a plea deal before his trial. He said he feels that he, like Hailey, unjustly lost his life because of the shooting.
"The lawyer was saying I wouldn't do more than six or seven months at the time, but I didn't do (the crime)," he said. "It's a burden on me. It's a burden on my family. I didn't murder anybody, and I just want to clear my name."
"Having gone through this for about a year now and having seen all the evidence, I firmly believe that he's in jail for something he didn't do," Duke student Josh Schmidt said.
After McKoy went to prison in the Sampson Correctional Institution, word surfaced in the community that Hailey had been shot elsewhere.
"We were notified from different family members and different people in the streets that this murder took place in another location," said Lamont Saxon, McKoy's cousin.
Witnesses in a separate federal drug case backed up those claims. According to testimony in that case, Hailey was shot in Grove View Terrace and another drug dealer, William Talley, fired the shots.
The alternate theory was rejected in an appeal of McKoy's case, but two recently sworn affidavits bolster the argument.
A convicted drug dealer claims he saw Talley shoot at Hailey's car after Hailey drove off without paying for some crack cocaine.
Also, Williams' former girlfriend says he admitted to her that he had lied about seeing McKoy. The woman, whose name has been withheld for her protection, also swears Williams, who is now dead, was paid for his testimony in the case.
Talley is serving a federal prison sentence for drug convictions.
A spokesman for the Cumberland County District Attorney's Office said the appeals courts found no prejudicial error in the McKoy case and that the prosecutor considers the matter closed.
After more than 17 years in prison, McKoy said he hopes the Duke students can reopen the case and give him back some of his life.
"I'm not angry toward anybody," he said.