August 16, 2008 in City

Judge rules Coe must be jailed during trial

Lawyer had sought stay at Eastern State
Staff writer
 

A request from Kevin Coe’s lawyer to house the increasingly depressed, convicted rapist at Eastern State Hospital during his upcoming civil commitment trial has been rejected.

In a ruling from the bench Friday afternoon, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor denied the motion from Coe’s attorneys and said Coe must be kept at a secure facility – the Spokane County Jail. The Washington state attorney general’s office opposed the motion, saying the jail is the proper place to keep Coe during his trial.

“My view is I don’t have authority to place him anywhere but the Spokane County Jail,” O’Connor said.

Coe, dubbed the South Hill rapist after a wave of sexual assaults in Spokane starting in the 1970s, was suspected of dozens of rapes but was ultimately convicted of one count of rape on Oct. 23, 1980. He served a maximum 25-year sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary and was denied parole twice. He was scheduled to be released in September 2006, but the Washington attorney general’s office wants him declared a sexually violent predator who should be confined indefinitely.

Tim Trageser, Coe’s lawyer, questioned Dr. Leslie Sziebert, Coe’s psychiatrist at the McNeil Island Special Commitment Center, where Coe has been held since the state filed its civil commitment petition.

Coe was transferred two weeks ago from the more open Redwood East unit at the commitment center to Alder North – where inmates with psychological disorders are housed – because his depression has worsened, Sziebert said.

Coe is very thin, isn’t showering or changing his clothes, and has let his hair and fingernails grow long. He has refused all antidepressants and has agreed only to take Ambien to help him sleep better, Sziebert said. Isolation in the Spokane County Jail during his trial would make his situation worse, the psychiatrist added.

“Is he at risk to deteriorate more?” Trageser asked.

“Yes, he is,” Sziebert replied, saying Coe is exhibiting the signs of “major depression.”

Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers asked whether Coe would be transferred back to the Redwood unit. Sziebert said he hopes he could be returned there within the next few weeks – shortly before his Sept. 15 trial in Spokane. The trial is scheduled to last up to eight weeks.

The state offered declarations from Eastern State Hospital and the Spokane County Jail in support of its argument that Coe should be in the jail.

Dr. Robert Henry, clinical director of forensics at Eastern State Hospital, said he opposed Trageser’s request to keep Coe at the mental hospital because it’s not secure enough.

Coe could be a danger to the other inmates and they could be a danger to him, Henry said.

“He’s a dangerous sex offender. … We have an open facility with a vulnerable population, including female patients,” Henry said in response to Trageser’s questions.

Sgt. Richard D. Smith of the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office also submitted a declaration opposing the motion. Smith is the sergeant responsible for transporting persons in custody to and from hearings in Spokane County superior and district courts.

Transporting Coe from Eastern could cause trial delays because it would take 60 to 70 minutes to get him to court versus five to 10 minutes to bring him from the jail, Smith’s affidavit says. Smith also listed his security concerns, including violence or an escape attempt by Coe, and Coe’s own safety,

Kristie Rogers, a mental health counselor at the jail, also submitted a declaration saying the jail is prepared to handle Coe’s mental health issues.

Reach Karen Dorn Steele at 459 5462 or by e-mail at karend@spokesman.com


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