October 10, 2008 in City

Coe’s sister testifies on his behalf

Younger sibling says she’d help him move to Nevada
By The Spokesman-Review
 
CHRISTOPHER ANDERSON photo

Kevin Coe is escorted from Spokane County Superior Court on Thursday during a recess in his civil commitment trial.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

On the Web: Follow the proceedings at s-r.com /blogs/coe, where you’ll find previous coverage and multimedia.

Kevin Coe’s younger sister told a Spokane jury Thursday she’s willing to help her 61-year-old brother move to Nevada and to pay for his care in a group home if he’s released after his civil commitment trial.

Kathleen Coe said her brother likely will need special care because he has become deeply depressed and has “lost hope” after being detained for the past two years in the state’s Special Commitment Center, a high-security facility on McNeil Island for violent sexual predators.

That assessment was supported by another defense witness, psychiatrist Dr. Leslie Sziebert, of the Special Commitment Center. He said Coe is suffering from depression of “psychotic proportions” but has refused any medication to treat the illness.

Coe’s fate depends on the jury’s verdict at the end of his civil commitment trial in Spokane County Superior Court. The state rested its case Thursday morning, and Coe’s sister was the first witness for the defense.

The case could go to the jury late next week.

For 25 years in prison as he served his first-degree rape sentence, Coe kept a good attitude, exercising regularly and looking forward to his release, his sister said.

But that “changed overnight” when he was sent to McNeil Island, she said.

Coe, who goes by Kathy, is a Seattle resident and a globe-trotting sales manager for a medical device company. She said she has talked with her brother daily since he was sent to McNeil Island in 2006 at the end of his prison sentence.

She painted a picture of a normal childhood in the South Hill home of their parents, Ruth and Gordon Coe, and showed the jury a formal photo of her brother dressed for the Lewis and Clark High School prom with his steady girlfriend.

“We always had a really good relationship. He was a great big brother – he was sweet and kind to me,” she said under questioning from defense attorney Marla Polin.

When Coe left Spokane during his college years to attend radio school in Southern California, Kathy Coe said, she spent six weeks with him while she took an intensive biology course at North Hollywood High School.

Coe took her to Las Vegas, where he tipped an attendant enough to get them seats in the front row of an Elvis Presley concert, where Presley kissed her after singing “Love Me Tender,” she recalled.

“He reached down and shook Kevin’s hand,” she said.

In cross-examination, Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers asked Coe whether she’d been aware of a series of police interrogations of her brother starting in 1966 with the alleged assault of a 16-year-old girl Coe had picked up after a school dance. He was 19 at the time; the car was traced to his parents, but the girl’s mother declined to press charges.

Coe said she wasn’t aware of that incident, which occurred when she was 11, or her brother’s 1971 arrest on indecent liberties charges after a woman was fondled during a home invasion in Spokane’s Browne’s Addition neighborhood.

Bowers asked her about the 10 other women who have identified Coe as the man who assaulted them. “Do you believe your brother has ever committed a sexual offense?” Bowers asked.

“I don’t believe he’s committed a rape,” Coe replied. She said she “accepts” her brother’s stance that he doesn’t need sexual deviancy treatment but is encouraging him to treat his depression.

Bowers asked Coe if her brother would live with her in the Seattle area if he’s released.

“He doesn’t want to live in the state, and I’d fear for both our safety,” she said. Coe has said he’d move to Nevada if he’s released, either Las Vegas or Reno. He said he’s lived in both places before.

The jury also got insights into Coe’s short-lived second marriage when the defense read into the record a deposition by Shawn O’Brien. O’Brien, who married Coe in 1986, has left the state and was unavailable to testify in person, defense attorney Marla Polin said.

O’Brien said Coe proposed to her in a cassette tape he made while masturbating. But she also sent him nude photos and a sex tape of her own, she told Coe’s lawyers. The couple divorced in 1988.

O’Brien said Coe persuaded her during their marriage to obtain several credit cards and send him cash advances of about $12,000, which she had to pay off.

Defense attorney Tim Trageser said he wanted jurors to hear O’Brien’s deposition in case state attorneys sought to introduce the “proposal tape.”

In other testimony Thursday, Trageser hammered away at the state’s case.

Under cross-examination, Trageser pointed out that several women identified by a state expert as likely assaulted by Coe actually lost their court cases or didn’t positively identify him until they’d seen his photo in the media after his March 1981 arrest.

Trageser asked psychologist Amy Phenix about 13 rapes and groping incidents on a list of 33 that Phenix has linked to Coe as part of her conclusion that he’s a violent sexual predator likely to re-offend.

Coe was acquitted of two of the rapes, Trageser noted, and victims only made tentative identification in several other cases.

Trageser also sought to cast doubts in jurors’ minds on the likelihood that a 61-year-old would re-offend. Trageser hammered on Phenix’s use of an actuarial test, saying the score Phenix gave Coe on that assessment tool doesn’t make him “more likely than not” to re-offend – one of the legal benchmarks for being civilly committed.

Phenix said Coe’s score on the test indicated he’d have a 25 percent chance of re-offending within five years.

“So that’s not more likely than not to re-offend, is it?” Trageser asked.

“That’s true if that’s all I used. He would not be likely to re-offend,” Phenix said.

Under redirected questioning from Bowers, Phenix said data is scarce on re-offense rates of prisoners older than 60.

“Do you believe Mr. Coe would belong to the smaller number of older sex offenders likely or not likely to re-offend?” Bowers asked.

“I believe he’s likely to re-offend. He’s healthy, he’s mobile. … I have to consider his overall level of risk and his level of deviancy,” Phenix replied.

Staff writer Rick Bonino contributed to this story. Reach Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or at karend@spokesman.com.

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