ROCK HILL — Harvey Lee McKee Jr. lost 10 pounds over 34 days in the York County jail.
He ate runny grits and powdered eggs. He always watched his back. After his first 16 days behind bars, he joined the jails general population, where he ate, spoke and showered next to accused murderers who he says done did it.
Just cold-blooded killers. Theyre walking around smiling like thats the playground, McKee said. You have to live around people like that. Youre constantly on guard; youre on edge. They play for keeps.
On May 7, police swarmed McKees front yard on Crawford Road where he lives with his wheelchair-bound mother, Bertha ordered him to hit the ground with his friends watching and cuffed him, he said.
Its kind of embarrassing when they pull up and have assault rifles and order (me) to lay on the ground, he said.
Authorities accused him of murdering Jamar Ferguson, a 31-year-old man McKee said he never waved at or spoke to, although he frequently saw him walking alongside the road.
Ferguson was found lying dead on Taylor Street on April 20. He had been shot four times, police said. Family and friends said he had been walking home from a store.
He was killed before midnight on a Friday, leaving behind a son, 8, a daughter, 9, and a mother, Patricia Boulware. His slaying was Rock Hills third homicide this year.
Until Monday, McKee was the only suspect police identified in the shooting. After a magistrate denied him bond, the families of both suspect and victim confirmed that McKee and Ferguson had an ex-girlfriend in common. Ferguson and the woman, a student at Clinton Junior College, had been separated for almost a year before his slaying.
McKees criminal record spans more than 20 years, according to State Law Enforcement Division records. In 1985, he was sentenced to one year in prison and four years probation after pleading guilty to criminal sexual conduct with a minor. Charges against him in subsequent years include disorderly conduct, assault and battery, resisting arrest, unlawful weapons possession and driving under suspension.
Police can re-file charges
McKee was released from prison Monday afternoon when prosecutors dismissed his charge with the right to re-file it. The charge was dismissed because of speculative and circumstantial evidence. McKee had been scheduled to appear in court for a preliminary hearing Monday, when his attorney, York County Public Defender Harry Dest, planned to argue for dismissal.
Police had no physical or forensic evidence that wouldve implicated McKee, Dest said. Instead, authorities misinterpreted one sources comments.
On Wednesday, Dest cautioned that because McKee was released with the right to restore charges, police can still charge him if evidence connecting him with Fergusons death emerges.
But as of now, McKees case is no longer active, Dest said.
Police on Wednesday said that McKee is still considered a suspect.
McKee said he knows his release doesnt put Fergusons family at ease.
I feel for her (Fergusons mother), he said. You cant ease a familys mind if you aint got the right person.
On Wednesday, two days into freedom, McKee sat in his living room, lauding praise on his attorney but expressing frustration at what he endured.
Initially, I was on lockdown 24/7 with the exception of one hour of recreation time that McKee said came with shackles around his hands and feet.
After 16 days, McKee was placed in C Block, he said, or general population. Then, he could go outside twice a day.
As he sat in his cell with a cellmate who cried innocence after being charged with shooting a nephew McKee prayed that truth would prevail.
It bothered me, McKee said. You have your whole life hanging on top of your head. Its something you just dont want to go through.
Thoughts of never seeing his two grandsons, 3 and 1, his daughter or the rest of his family ran through his mind.
He hated for people to walk behind him, especially when he was out of camera range. During rec hour, he witnessed an inmate choke another inmate.
After his release, McKee walked out of the prison wearing sweat pants and flip flops. He walked through York until a friend picked him up and drove him to Rock Hill, he said.
Mom imprisoned, too
McKee, a self-employed handyman who built his mothers porch, says hes having trouble getting work.
People look at you like you have the plague, he said. People look at me like Im a murderer or something. You think Im a murderer ... You want me in your kitchen working and youre in your bedroom trying to relax?
McKee wasnt imprisoned alone.
Pointing to his mother, Bertha, he said, she hasnt left this house since I left. They lock me up but now I have to leave my mother here by herself at night.
Everyday, McKee cares for Bertha, 66, who suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. While he was behind bars, she missed doctors appointments and stayed home not knowing whats going on.
She didnt attend his bond hearing.
I done been through hell, she said. I sit here and lock up the doors at night ... here by myself.
Berthas daughters cared for their mother, but they had to work and return home to their own families each night. Before May 7, McKee was always there.
I had awful thoughts about my son going to jail for the rest of his life, she said. I knew in my heart that he didnt do it. I couldnt wrap my mind around him shooting someone in cold blood.
Things are slowly returning to normal for Bertha, who for 31 years worked at the Celanese textile plant in Rock Hill and another job to support her three children.
On Tuesday, McKee cooked Bertha a big dinner, consisting of cube steak, creamed potatoes and corn on the cob. His sisters have requested that he cook dinner on Sunday.
When she became sick, Bertha said shed always sit on her front porch, watching my trees.
Amid questions from detectives and speculation about her sons innocence, she stopped going outside.
By Wednesday, she still hadnt gone back to her porch.