The Georgia Supreme Court on Monday upheld murder conviction and life prison sentence of Tracey McKay, convicted in the 1989 killing of Veri Best Donut employee John Thrash.
Trash's murder went unsolved for more than a decade. The brake came in 2003 when police arrested McKay's brothers, Tony and Kelvin in connection with a rash of Columbus burglaries. Detectives gathered new information about the Veri Best cold case, prompting them to interview two of the McKays’ sisters. They testified at trial that their brother, Tracey, had told them he had shot Thrash during a robbery. John McKay also testified that his younger brother, Tracey, and his brother, Tony, had been involved in the donut shop killing.
Tracey McKay was convicted in 2006 by a Muscogee County Superior Court jury. He was sentenced to life plus five years in prison, which prompted an appeal to the state Supreme Court, where he alleged his trial attorney was incompetent and ineffective for failing to present evidence that two other people had allegedly confessed to the killing.
“We disagree,” Monday's’s opinion stated. His trial attorney testified at the hearing on McKay’s motion for new trial that while he was aware of the alleged confessions, the statements could not be corroborated, consisted of hearsay and did not match the physical evidence in the case. The attorney testified that his trial strategy was to discredit McKay’s siblings who had implicated him, rather than focusing on “red herrings” that the attorney believed would discredit their defense. The attorney also testified that he had discussed the trial strategy with his client. “Reasonable trial strategy does not constitute deficient performance,” according to the opinion.
The Veri Best Donut murder was a high-profiled cold case.
On July 29, 1989, Tracey McKay, along with his brothers Tony and John McKay and friend Antonio McGee, decided to rob a store in Harris County. After driving from their home in Columbus to Harris County, however, they changed their minds and returned home. They then decided to rob the Veri Best Donut Store in Columbus instead.
According to briefs filed in the case, the donut shop was an easy target because the men knew the regular late-night schedule Thrash, and because Tracey McKay and Thrash were involved in a romantic relationship.
Shortly after midnight on July 30, 1989, the men went to the donut shop, although John McKay did not go with them. Armed with a .25 caliber pistol, Tracey McKay held Thrash at gun-point through a pass-through window at the front of the store while his brother, Tony McKay, entered the shop through a side door they knew was kept unlocked, and McGee stood guard.
As Tony approached the cash register, Tracey panicked when he saw Thrash move and he shot him. The bullet entered and exited Thrash’s right arm and struck him in the chest, severing his aorta. All three men fled the scene and Thrash bled to death.
At about 1 a.m., police responded to a 911 call and found Thrash’s body on the floor. The cash register was open but the money was still inside; Thrash’s wallet was still on his body. A day or two after the shooting, the donut shop’s owner found a .25 caliber shell casing under a counter as he was cleaning up for the next morning. And a pathologist removed a. 25 caliber bullet from Thrash’s body during the autopsy. Despite an investigation, the case went cold.