Updated as of 12/02/2022 at 6:10 p.m. ET
Tracy McCarter, a Black domestic violence survivor accused of murdering her abusive husband, has officially been freed. On Friday, Judge Diane Kiesel dismissed the second-degree murder charges against McCarter on the recommendation of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
From the beginning, Tracy has said she acted in self-defense and never meant for her husband, James Murray, who was white, to die. Now, over two years later, she can finally put the ordeal behind her.
“I am innocent,” said Tracy in a statement. “And I am devastated that on March 2, 2020, a man whom I loved lost his life. We were both the victims of the cruel disease of alcoholism. Dismissing the unjust charge against me can’t give back what I’ve lost, but I am relieved that this nightmare will finally be over, and I am determined to thrive once again.”
The story of how Tracy and her supporters won her freedom is filled with infinite twists and turns.
Tracy Has A Secret Weapon
Last November, the weight of the murder charge against Tracy McCarter, 46, showed on the faces of her four grown children, who were huddled together on the old wooden benches of the New York Criminal Courthouse. One minute their eyes fixated on their mother in front of them, and the next moment, their gazes focused on her supporters who lined the rows behind them like a shield, whispering explanations of the complicated legal jargon tossed about the courthouse.
Even though her attorneys would lose a motion to keep out evidence against her that day, Tracy, who had been on house arrest since September of last year, left the courtroom with her family and a smile.
In less than two months, the new Manhattan District Attorney, Alvin Bragg, was set to take office. The turnover in the administration was a game changer for Tracy, or so the family thought. Bragg had publicly supported Tracy during his campaign for District Attorney. So the family was confident he’d continue his support of Tracy’s case once he took office.
So shortly after leaving the courthouse that crisp mid-November day, Tracy and her family blew into Square Diner. The 1950s themed restaurant stuck out against the otherwise modern and sleek Tribeca neighborhood. Posters, warning “there will be a $5.00 charge for whining, $10.00 for being a real pain in the butt,” lined the wood upholstered walls.
As the stale scent of the courthouse faded into the familiar scent of fresh coffee and burning hot griddles, the dreariness of court began to fade away. Tracy’s granddaughter was only a toddler and sat nestled among her family, her half-up do bobbing against her jet black curls.
Around the table, the family discussed what life would be like once Tracy was free. On the top of Tracy’s list was decorating her granddaughter’s nursery. Tracy had been a stay-at-home mother and an army wife. In that time, she’d developed a passion for interior decorating, and she reveled in plotting out her plans for Olivia’s room. This was especially important since she hadn’t gotten to help set up the nursery because she had spent the first part of Olivia’s life locked away at Rikers Island.
A Deeply Troubled Marriage Turned Deadly
Murray and Tracy had been married for less than a year but were living separately after Murray’s severe addiction to alcohol and his subsequent outbursts had become too much for the mother of four to handle.
According to neighbors, living apart hadn’t stopped him from showing up intoxicated to her apartment building and demanding to be let in on multiple occasions.
“We’ve had problems with him,” Will, Tracy’s neighbor, told police, according to court records, adding that Murray was often “banging on our door[s] and trying to get in.”
It had even gotten so bad that Tracy had been asked to “vacate” her apartment by management. In a letter to Tracy, obtained by The Root, building management cited complaints that James had “been found passed out drunk in front of the building” on a “number of occasions.”
According to witnesses, the day he died followed a similar pattern. “He was very drunk, ringing all the doorbells in the apartment,” her supper, Rafael Fermin told the New York Post.
Fermin said that when Murray showed up at the complex, he’d refused to let him inside.
But hours and several frantic calls from a payphone later, Tracy told police that she’d agreed to let Murray spend the night and sleep it off. It wasn’t until around 9 pm that neighbors said they started to hear shouting from her apartment.
“She’s trying to get him out of the house, and he wouldn’t leave,” Will told police, according to a transcript of body camera footage from that night. “I think he tried to take something of hers, and I heard a push.”
After that, the sounds became increasingly more frantic. “I heard her like screaming,“‘Oh my god, Oh my god. Somebody call 911,’” Will told the arresting officer.
Tracy has never gone on the record about how Murray died, and she did not go on the record for this story. Prosecutors alleged that Tracy stabbed him. Although, according to the New York Times her lawyers have maintained that she did not stab him. They say that he attacked her and she held a knife in “a defensive posture and he charged.”
By the time law enforcement arrived, Tracy, still dressed in scrubs from her shift at the hospital, was desperately trying to stop the bleeding from a single stab wound in Murray’s chest, according to body camera footage.
“I need EMS. I need EMS,” screamed Tracy, according to the transcript.
According to the body camera footage transcript provided by the prosecution, this is what happened; With her hands pressed down on Murray’s pale chest, the seasoned nurse begged officers not to move her. “If I let go, he’s going to die,” she said.
Although officers tried to calm her down, she began to plead for him to stay alive. “Jim, please stay with us,” she begged.
It was only after EMS took over that Tracy began to talk about what happened that night.
According to Tracy’s statement to police, Murray had tried to take her wallet, and when she said no, he’d gotten violent. “He pushed me into the glass,” Tracy told the police. “He was fighting me. I don’t understand. And I was ringing for help.”
As police placed handcuffs around Tracy’s wrists she begged them to understand. “I was yelling for somebody to help me,” she said. “Nobody helped me.”
According to court records, police had arrested Murray for allegedly assaulting his ex-wife, and assaulting a police officer.
In text messages submitted to the court, Tracy expressed genuine fear to her friend Ashley and Murray’s mother that he would seriously hurt her. “Ashley, I’m so scared,” Tracy wrote to her friend Ashley Gray in 2018. “I didn’t tell you this, but he punched and kicked me several times and tried to choke me.”
In a letter to Tracy as a part of his therapy for alcoholism, Murray admitted to “fighting” and “pulling Tracy’s hair.”
Assistant District Attorney Sarah Sullivan argued that Tracy’s claims of abuse were overblown. “It’s quite possible he puts her into some sort of chokehold, but it would have been for a very short period of time,” Sullivan said about an incident where Murray was alleged to have severely choked Tracy.
Even though Tracy had been the one to break things off, Sullivan argued that she’d killed him out of jealousy. “At the time of the victim’s death, he was seeing other women, and the defendant was extremely jealous,” said Sullivan, at an August 2021 hearing, according to The Intercept.
None of the evidence about Murray’s abuse of Tracy or her claims that she’d acted in self-defense made it to the grand jury. And in September 2020, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office indicted Tracy on second-degree murder charges.
That’s where Alvin Bragg enters the picture.
In Part II (Dec. 3, 2022) : Does Alvin Bragg Stay True to His Word?