Monday, April 5, 2010

Court Case In Roanoke Virginia

On Monday March, 22, 2010, in the Roanoke City Circuit Court, I witnessed the opening statements for the murder trial of William Ray Hagy Jr, a 49 year old man incarcerated since 1984 for the rape of a 14-year-old girl. Hagy was indicted for the cold case murder of Cynthia McCray in 1984. Cynthia McCray’s naked dead body was dumped under a Virginia interstate 581 underpass. (citation) Advances in DNA testing linked Hagy's involvement in the Murder of Cynthia McCray. In addition, the testimony of Roy Dickinson, an inmate Hagy befriended in prison, provided detailed information about the murder of Cynthia McCray, which helped strengthen the Commonwealth Attorney's case against Hagy. However, William Hagy's court appointed defense attorney, Gary Lumsden hopes to weaken the prosecutions case by attacking the informant's credibility. Informant, Roy Dickinson is currently serving prison time for pleading guilty to fraud charges in 2008.(citation) Dickinson has a history of white collar crime, and behind bars has acquired incriminating information against fellow inmates, and has used this information to snitch on fellow inmates. Dickinson has had one sentence dropped below the minimum sentencing requirement, and he also currently faces more charges for forging documents from another inmate who he said was plotting to kill a federal prosecutor, and a Securities Exchange Commission Lawyer.(citation) This case was a very interesting case which prompted my own research on the trial.

I arrived to the Roanoke City Circuit Court around 9:30 am Monday March 22, 2010. I checked the court’s docket online the previous night and decided to attend the Hagy case; since it was a jury trial that began the following day. In courtroom number 4, Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Betty Jo Anthony and Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Sheri Jones were getting prepared for their case. As they both scrambled through a file cabinet, I noticed the Defense Attorney and his assistant entered the court. The Defense Attorney Gary Lumsden walked into the court with an aggravated demeanor and a newspaper in his hand. As he approached his table he slammed the newspaper onto the table and shook his head. His assistant, a young looking man with balding hair had dropped a file cabinet onto the table. The bailiff approached me and asked me if I was there for the Hagy case. I acknowledged that I was indeed in court for the Hagy case, and I asked him about the case, and also asked him the Defense Attorneys’, Prosecutor’s, and the Judge’s names. He provided me with their names and I then asked him why the Defense Attorney slammed the newspaper onto the table with such disgust. The Bailiff explained that the Roanoke Times printed an article that morning that thoroughly detailed the Hagy case, which Gary Lumsden felt could harm his defense. Gary Lumsden then walked over to the Commonwealth Attorneys’ table placed the newspaper on their table, shook his head in disgust and walked back to his table. I also noticed that there were several journalists observing the trial and taking notes. The court clerk was busy typing into a computer and the Judge was nowhere to be seen. The Bailiffs were conversing about March Madness College Basketball Brackets, and Baseball. Time slowly passed and the victim’s family sat down across from me. Gary Lumsden began to swing back and forth in his chair and his assistant continued to walk in and out of the court room every few minutes. I expected the trial to start on time but it actually didn’t start until around 11 am. Judge William Broadhurst entered the courtroom a couple of minutes after 11 am. The Defendant William Ray Hagy Jr alongside a Bailiff was escorted into the court room 10 minutes after the Judge entered. William Hagy Jr. an aging white man wearing a pair of black glasses with long black hair tied into a ponytail entered the court room walking gingerly. As Hagy sat down he looked around the court room and even made eye contact with me for a brief moment. Hagy scanned the room as though he was looking for a long lost friend or a relative he has not seen in a long time, but it appeared that no one showed up in support of Hagy. A television located in the middle of the court room displayed a picture of Hagy when he was a young man and a picture of his accused victim Cynthia Mccray. Hagy as a young man had the same hairstyle that he currently has and wore similar glasses. From his appearance, I figured that the murder he was being accused of must have had drugs involved due to Hagy’s hippie like appearance. William Ray Hagy Jr suffers from Parkinson’s syndrome so he noticeably twitches constantly as though he is nervous. After Hagy sat down he whispered something to his Attorney Gary Lumsden and Gary Lumsden then said something back to Hagy. I tried to listen closely but I couldn’t clearly pick up the gist of what he was saying. The atmosphere in the court room before a trial begins is just as compelling as the actual trial. Arriving early to the trial allowed me to witness the pre trial regimen and the different personalities from the Common Wealth Attorneys and the defense team. I was lucky enough to go to court on a day an interesting and detailed trial was beginning. I observed the courtroom work procedures and the different actors of the court. In addition, I gained credible information from the Bailiffs in the courtroom. The pre trial activities at The Roanoke City Circuit Court will always be an experience I will never forget.

Once everyone was settled in court Judge William Broadhurst began the trial. William Hagy Jr was arraigned on a murder charge, and Judge William Broadhurst asked Hagy if he was satisfied with his Attorneys’ services. Hagy responded by stating he was satisfied with his Attorneys’ services. Judge William Broadhurst then read Hagy his rights and advised him of his choice to a trial by jury or a bench trial. The witnesses of the case were discussed and Judge William Broadhurst then asked Hagy whether he would prefer to have a bench or trial by jury. In response, Hagy turned to his lawyer and whispered something into his ear. After talking to his lawyer for a minute, Hagy then proclaimed to Judge Broadhurst “I prefer whatever trial that can occur today“. Judge Broadhurst notified Hagy that the court was ready for both trials, so it was up to Hagy to decide which type of trial he preferred. With advise from his Lawyer Hagy decided to have a Bench trial rather than a Jury trial, since Hagy has a notorious history in Roanoke that may sway the jury to convict him due to the jury’s biases against him. After Hagy announced his wishes to a Bench trial the several journalists in the court room began writing into their journals aggressively. Judge William Broadhurst then dismissed the Jury and granted a five minute recess for the court. Leaving the court during the five minute recess I followed behind a group of older woman, who I figured were relatives and friends of the assailant. As they exited the courtroom the woman stepped into an office to the right hand side of the court. The door to the office was open and I noticed the Commonwealth Attorney in the office talking to the various women. I positioned myself closer to the door to try to hear what the woman and the Commonwealth Attorney were talking about, but as I lunged closer to the door the Commonwealth Attorney with a stern look on her face closed the door. I then sat down on a bench outside the courtroom next to a man on the phone. The man on the phone, glancing through his notepad provided details of the trial to a caller on the other line of the phone. I listened closely to his conversation to hear his perspective of the trial. The man on the phone felt that Hagy did not have a chance with a bench trial and that a trial by jury would benefit Hagy since the evidence against him was not strong enough to convict Hagy. Five minutes passed and I headed back into the courtroom and waited patiently for opening statements to begin.

The opening statements of the William Hagy Jr case began with the prosecution describing the details of the case and the chain of custody. The victim Cynthia McCray was found dead on the side of Campbell Ave under the 581 underpass raped with her purse tied around her arm. The Medical Examiner at The Medical Examiners Office in 1984 who worked on the McCray homicide was Dr. Marcello, who ruled that the cause of death was compression to the neck. Semen stains found on the backside of Ms. McCray’s panties linked Hagy to the crime, but the case became cold because the panties were stored in the Roanoke Police Department storage room since they did not have a suspect. Advances in DNA technology led to several cold cases being reopened which included the Murder and Rape of Cynthia McCray. William Hagy Jr who is currently incarcerated in Red Onion State Prison in Pound Virginia is eligible for Parole some time next year and he also faces another Murder charge for the murder of a 33 year old woman in Roanoke. The prosecution also has testimony from a witness who befriended Hagy in The Roanoke City Jail and acquired vital information from Hagy in regards to the murder of Cynthia McCray. The witness Roy Dickinson also will provide as evidence a map drawn by William Hagy showing the location of where Cynthia McCray’s body was dumped. The defense did not have any opening statements so the trial began with the cross examination of Roy Dickinson.

Roy Dickinson walked into the court room escorted by a bailiff. As Mr. Dickinson approached the witness stand he glanced at William Hagy Jr, and Mr. Hagy shook his head as Mr. Dickinson sat down. Mr. Dickinson a pudgy man with long greasy hair was jailed at the Roanoke City Jail with Mr. William Hagy Jr. The Assistant Commonwealth Attorney Sheri Jones asked Mr. Dickinson to identify Mr. Hagy, in response Mr. Dickinson proceeded to point to Mr. Hagy. Sheri Jones further questioned Mr. Dickinson on how he met Mr. Hagy, and what information Hagy confided to him, and his reason for being incarcerated. Mr. Dickinson described his relationship with Mr. Hagy which began when Mr. Dickinson was moved to Roanoke City Jail to serve jail time before his sentencing in a fraud case. Mr. Hagy and Mr. Dickinson were both confined in segregation together at the Roanoke City Jail. Mr. Dickinson was confined to segregation due to his wrist’s being broken by another inmate for testifying against a fellow inmate. In segregation inmates only have an hour to either use the phone or go outside for exercise. With family living in California Mr. Dickinson did not have an opportunity to call his family because of the time differences in California. Since Mr. Hagy was released later in the day for recreation he had the opportunity to call Mr. Dickinson’s wife for him. On a daily basis Mr. Hagy would take down notes for Mr. Dickinson and relay the messages to Mr. Dickinson’s wife. Through these exchanges Mr. Hagy and Mr. Dickinson developed a close relationship where Mr. Hagy felt comfortable enough to confide to Mr. Dickinson vivid details about the murder of Cynthia McCray. William Hagy told Roy Dickinson that he killed Cynthia McCray after a drug deal went wrong. Cynthia McCray was a prostitute in Roanoke and Mr. Hagy traded Marijuana to Ms. McCray for sexual favors. One day Ms. McCray denied Mr. Hagy’s advances and Mr. Hagy could not take no for an answer so he strangled and raped Ms. Mccray and tossed her body near some train tracks. After committing the murder Mr. Hagy went to a restaurant called Hardees to clean himself up and dispose some of the evidence used in the crime. Hagy felt as though Ms. McCray had no right to deny him sexual favors since she was a prostitute; he believed that it was no big deal that he had killed her. A map drawn by Mr. Hagy was given to Mr. Dickinson to show the location of where Ms. McCray’s body was dumped off. After receiving this map Mr. Dickinson sent the map to his attorney because he believed he had credible evidence on a murder. During cross examination Defense Attorney Gary Lumsden attacked Roy Dickinson’s criminal past. He asked about Mr. Dickinson’s criminal past which included civil and criminal convictions. Gary Lumsden presented several exhibits to the court clerk as evidence to discredit the testimony of Mr. Dickinson. Several times Mr. Lumsden caught Mr. Dickinson lying and Mr. Dickinson often had to think hard before he answered any of Mr. Lumsden’s questions. For a Court Appointed Attorney Gary Lumsden provided adequate representation for William Hagy Jr. If it were not for the DNA evidence I believe Mr. Hagy may have been acquitted. Gary Lumsden did a great job exposing the witnesses past character issues. Roy Dickinson has been convicted of fraud, impeding the IRS, and also has a history of forging documents to use as incriminating evidence against fellow inmates. A discrepancy surrounding the details of the map Mr. Hagy gave to Mr. Dickinson occurred when Mr. Lumsden asked Mr. Dickinson why he wrote on the back of the map. In Mr. Dickinson’s testimony regarding the map he stated that Mr. Hagy drew the map for him then described the locations to him. Since Mr. Hagy did not write the names of the streets on the map or the direct location the body was disposed, Mr. Dickinson asked Mr. Hagy to tell him the names of the streets and the location of the body. Mr. Dickerson then proceeded to write the names of the streets and the location of the body on the back of the map. Gary Lumsden questioned Mr. Dickinson’s motive in doing this. Gary Lumsden believed it was not logical for someone to make a map for someone else without labeling the streets and any other important locations on the map. With Roy Dickinson’s past history of forgery and fraud it would not surprise me if he indeed created that map himself to use as evidence against Hagy to reduce his own sentence.

Besides the DNA evidence the prosecution’s evidence during the trial’s first day was very weak. Their primary witness was a convicted white collar criminal who has a known history of gathering incriminating information to use against other inmates. Roy Dickinson was far from a credible witness, and the Commonwealth Attorneys Office ought to be ashamed of themselves for using such a devious informant. I agree with Gary Lumsden when he stated that Dickinson, “as a well practiced, serial informant, was in effect a government agent and should not have been allowed to discuss McCray's death with Hagy without Hagy's counsel present“.(citation) Prosecutors often rely on testimony from serial informants far too much. When granting an informant a reduced sentence due to their testimony in a trial, informants like Mr. Dickinson often fabricate information. When this information is presented to the court jurors can be swayed by informant testimony that is not always true. Rather than gain real evidence prosecutors seek snitches to strengthen their cases when in reality the testimony of an informant is often far from factual. When using informants the Justice System grants a disservice to the people they are supposed to be protecting. Thus, a market of informant testimony is created and anybody willing to receive a sentence reduction will participate in testifying. Testimony from informants who receive incentives should not be admitted in court. Since the Prosecution in the Hagy case had DNA evidence along with informant testimony the DNA was enough evidence to convict him, but if the prosecution only has informant testimony from an informant who received an incentive then their testimony should be thrown out of court. People searching for information with their intentions focused on an incentive will fabricate information to ensure their own personal gain. In addition, individuals can believe things said about people when told by a person in power. For example, when a cop tells a kid in a high drug environment that he won’t arrest him if he can provide information on someone selling drugs, that kid will look for someone who may look like they’re selling drugs when in reality they may not be selling drugs. Thus, using informant testimony dampers the credibility of a case against a defendant. However, The Commonwealth Attorneys Office was lucky they had secondary evidence that tied Hagy to the crime scene. Advancements in DNA technology led to the conviction of William Ray Hagy Jr.

My experience in court on March 22, 2010 provided me with an experience I would not be able to receive from reading a book or watching television. I also learned that court appointed attorneys can actually do a great job if you are blessed to be appointed a good attorney. Watching cases in court is very entertaining and I plan to attend more cases in the future. People tend to spend money to be entertained when you can wake up early and sit in on an interesting case and be entertained for several days. If I had spare time to attend the rest of the Hagy case I definitely would have. I also want to attend an actual trial by jury since I didn’t get to witness one. The court room is a very interesting environment and I plan on working in one in the future.