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The accused murderer was charged with killing the mother, stepfather and son of his estranged wife. Even though he was caught halfway across the country with the gun linked to cartridge casings left at the scene of the triple murder, he maintained his innocence, saying it was corrupt police who had framed him as part of a drug conspiracy.

It was his attorney who admitted his guilt at trial, from the opening statements all the way through the penalty phase. Robert McCoy was convicted of three first-degree murder counts—and sentenced to die by a jury.

But McCoy will get a new trial because his attorney went against his client’s wishes, based on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling issued this morning.

The attorney for the then-accused killer should have agreed to represent McCoy’s protestations of innocence—no matter how “overwhelming” the evidence was, the highest court ruled, 6-3.

“Just as a defendant may steadfastly refuse to plead guilty in the face of overwhelming evidence against her, or reject the assistance of legal counsel despite the defendant’s own inexperience and lack of professional qualifications, so may she insist on maintaining her innocence at the guilty phase of a capital trial,” writes Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, for the majority. “These are not strategic choices about how best to achieve a client’s objectives; they are choices about what the client’s objectives in fact are.”

Christine Young, Willie Young and Gregory Colson were all shot and killed in the Young home in Bossier City, La., on May 5, 2008.

Days later, McCoy was arrested in Idaho. Inside the car in which he was traveling was a gun that was linked to ballistics evidence found at the scene back in Louisiana.

McCoy was extradited back to Louisiana, where a grand jury indicted him on three first-degree murder counts, as the prosecutor gave notice of the intent to seek the death penalty.

McCoy consistently maintained he was out of state, and the killings had been committed by corrupt police over a drug deal. The relationship with his public defender broke down, and he sought to represent himself—until his parents hired attorney Larry English to take over as counsel.

But McCoy grew “furious” when he was told by English that they would admit McCoy’s guilt in the killings in an attempt to avoid the death penalty, according to court records.

In fact, right from the opening statement, English told jurors there was “no way reasonably possible” if they heard the evidence they could reach “any other conclusion than Robert McCoy was the cause of these individuals’ death.”

McCoy, at the moment, protested out loud, telling the court that English was “selling (him) out.” The jurors could not hear his protests, however.

During the penalty phase of the trial, English also maintained “Robert McCoy committed these crimes”—to further the argument that McCoy had “serious mental and emotional issues,” and should not be put to death. 

The trial court and all the way up to the Louisiana Supreme Court sided with English, saying he had taken the best strategic stance to avoid execution. The state’s highest court even found that if English presented McCoy’s alibi defense, the attorney could potentially be implicated in perjury.

But the Supreme Court justices now hold that the state and local courts’ decisions were “incompatible with the Sixth Amendment.”

“Larry English was placed in a difficult position; he had an unruly client and faced a strong government case,” writes Ginsburg. “He reasonably thought the objective of his representation should be avoidance of the death penalty. But McCoy insistently maintained: ‘I did not murder my family.’ Once he communicated that to court and counsel, strenuously objecting to English’s proposed strategy, a concession of guilty should have been off the table.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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