Jurors who will decide the fate of a Sierra Vista man later this year can be told about his conviction for a 2014 domestic violence charge, even though his current charges involve financial crimes, the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled Tuesday.
Lonney Edwards McCoy was to stand trial earlier this year on charges of unlawfully taking control of more than $4,000 of a vulnerable adult’s cash between December 2016 and August 2017. The charges also allege McCoy used a power of attorney to deprive the same vulnerable adult of assets or property, as well as money laundering.
However, the case has been on hold while the Cochise County Attorney’s Office asked the court of appeals to overturn a superior court judge’s ruling that McCoy’s old felony conviction would not be revealed to the jury when the trial starts in November.
Court records show McCoy was sentenced in 2015 after pleading guilty to a Class 6 felony of domestic violence aggravated assault for punching a woman while holding her down in 2014. He was placed on probation for three years but was later sentenced to 437 days incarceration with credit for 437 days of time served.
McCoy was also indicted in May 2018 on eight felonies connected to three checks someone deposited into McCoy’s bank account in March 2017. Two of the checks were drawn on accounts belonging to long-deceased women, while the account holder of the third check claimed to have never written the check, according to the grand jury testimony of Sierra Vista Police Det. John Papatrefon.
And in September 2019, McCoy was indicted on charges unrelated to financial crimes after being accused of criminal trespass, burglary, and disorderly conduct. His three cases will be decided in separate trials with different juries, but summer 2020 trial dates were vacated due to the issue with the 2014 conviction.
Under state law, the felony criminal history of any defendant who testifies must be disclosed at trial “if the probative value of the evidence outweighs its prejudicial effect to that defendant.”
McCoy, who turns 44 on Thursday, argued that his prior conviction should not be disclosed because it did not involve dishonesty or a false statement. Prosecutor Michael Powell, however, contended the chance of prejudice to McCoy was slight because of the dissimilarity of the offenses.
Powell also argued that McCoy’s credibility as a witness was an issue and that is was possible for jurors to be told a “sanitized” version of McCoy’s conviction.
Judge Laura Cardinal of the Cochise County Superior Court agreed with McCoy that it would be “more prejudicial” to the defendant if jurors were told of the domestic violence conviction.
“The probative value of the conviction does not substantially out-weigh the prejudicial impact,” Cardinal ruled. Her decision prompted the county attorney’s office to seek special action from the court of appeals on Aug. 5.
On Sept. 15, the court of appeals overturned Cardinal’s ruling, noting it had been predicated on an incorrect legal standard, and as such was “an error of law” and an abuse of judicial discretion.
The appellate decision also noted the Arizona Supreme Court has “made clear that the fact the defendant committed a serious offense is admissible and probative of that defendant’s honesty.” Absent some other basis to exclude the conviction, “the evidence should be admitted,” the decision states.
McCoy’s attorney has until Oct. 15 to petition the supreme court for review of the matter. Otherwise the court of appeals decision will become effective.
In the meantime, the parties are preparing for a Nov. 30 to Dec. 3 trial in his first case.