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Bellefontaine, OH

Teen hanging case from ’06 may be reopened

Almost seven years after a Westerville teenager died in a hanging at a local church camp, a lawyer for his family asked Friday for the criminal investigation to be reopened.

The request was made after another camper invoked the Fifth Amendment at a deposition in the wrongful death suit filed by the dead boy's mother.

Attorney Cliff Arnebeck sent an e-mail to Logan County Sheriff Andy Smith Friday. Arnebeck said the witness’ request for protection against self-incrimination is enough to raise new questions about the death of James McCoy III (pictured).

McCoy was found hanging from a tree in a remote area of Camp Cotubic on County Road 25 northeast of Bellefontaine.

A youth group from McCoy’s church, Church of the Messiah of Westerville, was on a retreat in April 2006. It was his 18th birthday.

McCoy’s mother, Tonya Amoako-Okyere, filed a lawsuit in Franklin County Common Pleas Court six years ago. She said her son was the victim of an asphyxiation prank. The lawsuit claims that McCoy died as a result of his friends, who were white, playing a version of a choking game on him as a birthday prank.

Arnebeck told Sheriff Smith in Friday's e-mail that the witness repeatedly took the Fifth during a March 13th deposition when questioned on the camp, the hanging, the handling of McCoy's belongings after his death, and statements the camper made to authorities.

In legal filings, Amoako-Okyere has alleged four campers gave false statements to authorities after the hanging, which led officials to believe McCoy had been depressed and suicidal. The mother said the boys created false writings to back up their story.

Her suit claims four unnamed authorities involved in responding to the incident were negligent in monitoring the youth outing, failed to quickly resuscitate McCoy, and never investigated whether he might have been the victim of racial violence.

Sheriff Smith has informed County Coroner Michael Failor and County Prosecutor Bill Goslee about the probe. He asked Dr. Failor to review files on the case. The preliminary coroner’s report ruled the death a suicide.

Mr. Arnebeck said the lawsuit seeks more than $5 million in damages to compensate for McCoy's pain and suffering during death as well as for various losses suffered by his next of kin.

The U.S. Department of Justice closed a civil rights investigation into the incident in 2007 after determining they either lacked evidence or jurisdiction to pursue criminal charges.

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