Almost seven years after a black teenager died in a hanging at an Ohio church camp, authorities in the rural county where it happened have granted a family lawyer’s request to review a coroner’s ruling of suicide.
Logan County Prosecutor William T. Goslee said in an email sent Tuesday that he plans to submit writing samples to a state crime lab from the boy, James McCoy III, and from a witness who recently invoked the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination in an ongoing wrongful death suit.
The lawyer representing McCoy’s mother, Tonya Amoako-Okyere, cited the county’s reconsideration in a request Monday to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, asking federal authorities also to reconsider the case it had closed in 2007.
Amoako-Okyere alleges her son died as a result of an asphyxiation prank little better than a lynching played on the boy by his white friends as a birthday prank. She seeks more than $5 million in damages.
In his letter to the U.S. Justice Department, attorney Cliff Arnebeck cited the witness’s recent refusal to answer questions as a pivotal development in the case.
Goslee said in his email that Arnebeck “grossly misstated” the reason Logan County was reopening the case. He said it had nothing to do with the witness’s decision to take the Fifth.
The lawsuit alleges four campers gave false statements to authorities after the incident, leading officials to believe McCoy had been depressed and suicidal, and later created false writings to back up their story.
Goslee said the county wants to do a detailed analysis of handwriting samples viewed by witnesses who say the writings were not McCoy’s to determine if they are “in fact not his.”
Barry Fagel, a Cincinnati-based attorney for the witness, told Sheriff Smith in a March 28 letter that he urged his client to take the Fifth “because Mr. Arnebeck was accusing (him) of being involved in the death of James McCoy.” He said it’s a right afforded under the U.S. Constitution and doesn’t in any way imply fault or guilt.
News reports at the time said authorities were told McCoy had inexplicably wandered off from the group and that his friends were confused and shocked by his death.
A coroner’s report called the death a suicide.