CATLETTSBURG After three hours of deliberation, a Boyd County jury found a 48-year-old Ironton man not guilty on manslaughter charges.
James Reed was on trial this week in connection with the Aug. 13, 2019, fatal shooting of 30-year-old Lawrence “Meech” McCoy. Throughout the trial, public defender Brian Hewlett contended Reed shot McCoy in order to defend his stepdaughter, who was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of the decedent.
Prior to being shot, McCoy held a gun to his girlfriend’s head and threatened to kill her, according to testimony. He had beaten her earlier that day, according to testimony.
When Judge John Vincent read the verdict, Reed and Hewlett erupted with emotion, hugging one another and shedding tears. After nearly two years in the Boyd County Detention Center awaiting his trial, Reed would walk away a free man.
“We’re going to go catfishing, I promise,” Hewlett told his client.
After the verdict, Hewlett said both families have been through pain and tragedy.
“James’ family has been through a lot and Meech’s family has been through a lot,” he said. “We have to remember, there is a family grieving. James Reed did what he had to do to protect his family and today a Boyd County jury told us that tonight.”
The verdict comes after a three-day trial on charges of first-degree manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter and reckless homicide. While the state initially charged Reed with murder, assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Christina Smith said they had reduced the charge prior to trial.
A charge of being a felon in possession of handgun and a persistent felony offender charge were on the table only in the event of a conviction, Smith said.
Included in jury instructions were instructions about self-defense and protecting another, stating both can be justifiable reasons for taking another life under circumstances in which it is believed a life is in danger.
When asked for comment following the verdict, Smith declined to give one.
On Wednesday, the jury heard closing statements from the defense and prosecution. During his statements, Hewlett contended that his client was a “patient man” who tried to take McCoy under his wing. But his actions that day — protecting his stepdaughter, who he looked upon as his own flesh and blood, from being further beaten by a man high on cocaine and drunk — were brave, Hewlett said.
“He knew what he was walking into. Eight feet away on the front porch of that home, he heard things start again, knowing he had beat her early that day. He knew Meech was on an ankle monitor for threatening to kill an Ironton Police officer,” Hewlett said. “But walked in there anyway to protect his family.”
Hewlett reminded the jury that Reed, who had also been drinking, didn’t shoot McCoy in the head, the heart or executioner style.
“He neutralized him and that was it,” Hewlett said. “If I’m James Reed and I’m assessing this situation, that this man threatened to kill a police officer, he was going to jail the next day and he grabbed a gun. Is that irrational? No, he was brave.”
Hewlett also pointed out that Reed didn’t hide the crime, nor did he tamper with any evidence. Admitting he should’ve gone to police following the shooting, Hewlett said the incident had traumatized Reed — people do weird things after a traumatic experience. And it’s a situation Reed still struggles with to this day, Hewlett said.
“James Reed knows that young Black men die in this country and he is not thrilled to have killed a young Black man,” Hewlett said. “But he wasn’t about to let a man kill his daughter, either.”
During Smith’s closing arguments, she stated that the actions in the moments before the shots were fired were up to debate — she recalled testimony from the stepdaughter stating that a struggle did not occur prior to the shooting. She also said protecting another statute only applies when there is a risk of death or serious physical injury, which could lead to death, disfigurement or the loss of an organ.
“There’s no doubt that Meech beat (the stepdaughter) earlier that day, but bruises fade,” Smith said. “I do not condone domestic violence and I prosecute those cases all the time. But the injuries he inflicted were not life-threatening.”
When Smith stated Meech had been shot in the back, Hewlett requested a side bar — when she resumed her argument, she backpedaled, stating “the angle of the shots were straight on and showed a more defensive position.”
Smith then went through the applicable charges in the case, pointing out where Reed’s conduct could warrant the conviction. Then she finally appealed to the jury about how McCoy died: alone, on a street after crawling out of his home in the 3400 block of Central Avenue.
“At the end of the day, a mother lost her son when she shouldn’t have. No one called 911 for him and they left him to die and bleed out alone,” Smith said.
During deliberations, the jury asked for transcripts of Reed’s interview with Ashland detectives at the Lawrence County (Ohio) Jail. Since no transcripts were introduced into evidence, the jury was hauled back into the court room to hear the recording.
In that interview, Reed said this:
“I feel bad about it, I’m sorry. But I’d do it again,” Reed said. “That’s my job, I’m a father. I have to protect my family. I saw my mom get beat her whole life and it ain’t happening with my kids.”
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