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Prominent Tampa lawyer to tackle wrongful convictions

Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy will lead a unit in the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office.
Tampa attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy will lead the Hillsborough State Attorney's conviction review unit.
Tampa attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy will lead the Hillsborough State Attorney's conviction review unit. [ Hillsborough State Attorney's Office ]
Published Jan. 10|Updated Jan. 10

TAMPA — Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy, a well-known Tampa criminal defense lawyer, will lead the effort to root out wrongful convictions within the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office.

Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren announced in a news release Monday that Jean-Pierre Coy will lead his conviction review unit, which he established in 2018 to examine old cases to guard against innocent people being kept in prison.

The news release quoted the state attorney praising Jean-Pierre Coy as someone who “knows how to get to the truth.”

“She understands that our job is to seek justice, and that commitment to justice never ends —even if that means acknowledging we got it wrong in the past,” Warren said in the release.

Warren established the conviction review unit to identify people from Hillsborough County who were convicted of crimes they did not commit. Since 2018, the unit has reviewed close to 400 cases, identifying wrongful convictions in three.

Jean-Pierre Coy will continue the work of reviewing petitions submitted to the unit to determine if there may be new evidence that could produce an exoneration.

“We all know that the justice system has had its flaws,” Jean-Pierre Coy said in the release. “So the ability to be able to get into this and try to correct some of those errors — whether they were intentional or unintentional — is really a dream job for me and a great culmination of my life’s work so far.”

Jean-Pierre Coy’s background includes experience as an assistant public defender and private criminal defense attorney. She has been a leader in numerous legal and professional organizations. She was formerly president of the George Edgecomb Bar Association and is a member of the Tampa Mayor’s African American Advisory Council.

Related: For black lawyer in Michael Drejka case, career and identity clash

She is perhaps best known for being one of four attorneys who represented Michael Drejka in his 2019 trial for the shooting for Markeis McGlockton, a case that attracted national attention. Drejka was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 20 years in prison. His conviction was recently upheld on appeal.

Defendant Michael Drejka talks with attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy in court in 2019.  SCOTT KEELER   |   Times
Defendant Michael Drejka talks with attorney Theresa Jean-Pierre Coy in court in 2019. SCOTT KEELER | Times [ SCOTT KEELER | TIMES | Tampa Bay Times ]

Jean-Pierre Coy is also a cancer survivor, having spoken publicly about multiple bouts with breast cancer. She is married to Travis Coy, a prosecutor in the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office. She earned a law degree from Stetson University College of Law, and a bachelor’s from Florida A&M University.

She takes over for Teresa Hall, the attorney who led the conviction review unit since it began.

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Hall has since moved to a regular prosecution role. In November, she was part of the prosecution team in the death penalty trial of Tyrone Terell Johnson, who was found guilty in the 2018 murder of his girlfriend and her 10-year-old son.

As the conviction review attorney, Hall was instrumental in the exoneration of Robert DuBoise, who served 37 years for a 1983 murder he did not commit. Hall located the DNA evidence that demonstrated DuBoise was not guilty.

She also led the unit’s review of the case of Tony Hopps, who went free after 31 years in prison for a 1991 robbery that evidence showed he did not commit.

Hillsborough’s conviction review unit is one of five such units in prosecutor’s offices throughout Florida.

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