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Expert witness testifies Coe not mentally ill

Tue., Oct. 14, 2008

Closing arguments scheduled for Wednesday

There’s no evidence that convicted rapist Kevin Coe has a mental abnormality, an expert for the defense told a Spokane County Superior Court jury Monday.

Dr. Theodore Donaldson, an Oregon forensic psychologist, testified that Coe is interested in “kinky sex” – but there’s no evidence he’s a mentally ill or “paraphilic” rapist who can’t control his urges.

Donaldson referred to psychotherapist Sigmund Freud, who said “the only thing abnormal about sex is no sex at all.” While Coe may be deviant compared to most people, that doesn’t make him crazy, he said.

“The fact he hasn’t shown any signs and symptoms of paraphilia in 27 years is either evidence he didn’t have it in the first place or it’s totally in remission,” Donaldson said.

That is in marked contrast to the opinion of the state’s expert, Dr. Amy Phenix, that Coe is a paraphilic rapist who is likely to re-offend because he can’t control his violent impulses.

Paraphilia, according to court documents, is “recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviors involving nonconsenting persons.”

Donaldson and Phenix know each other from California’s sexually violent predator program, where she worked for the state and Donaldson served briefly as a consultant. California’s 1996 sexual predator law was modeled on Washington’s.

Donaldson said he was dropped as a consultant to the California program after evaluating 20 sex offenders in 1996 because he disagreed with its methodologies – especially the difficulty of predicting who was likely to commit more violent sexual assaults after prison.

“We were doing the best we could … (but) we were all floundering,” Donaldson said.

He told the jury that his analysis of about 70,000 pages of records in the Coe case led him to conclude that the perpetrator of the rapes on Spokane’s South Hill was an ordinary rapist. Coe was charged with six rapes and convicted of one, the 1980 rape of Julie Harmia.

The rapist “may not be a very nice person, but I’m reluctant to say he has a mental illness,” Donaldson said under questioning from Coe’s attorney, Tim Trageser.

Under cross-examination from Assistant Attorney General Malcom Ross, Donaldson admitted he didn’t get much useful information from Coe when he interviewed him last year about the six rapes for which Coe was originally charged in 1981.

Ross pressed Donaldson on whether sexually violent predators know the ropes of the legal system and talk to each other about how to answer interview questions.

Donaldson acknowledged the incarcerated offenders are likely to share information and coach each other.

“You’d agree they tend not to say things about having difficulty controlling their sexually violent impulses?” Ross asked.

“Yes,” Donaldson replied.

Coe denied committing any of the six rapes – including the rape of Harmia, the conviction that sent him to prison for 25 years.

“Once he denied engaging in the offenses, it made no sense to question him further,” Donaldson said.

Ross also produced a statement from a Washington State Penitentiary inmate who said Coe never admitted to raping anyone but talked about his dislike for women and having to use force to complete a sex act.

Donaldson acknowledged the conversation between Coe and the other inmate but said it doesn’t prove Coe was sexually aroused by nonconsenting sex.

“It looks like he’s behaving the same way in his consensual and nonconsensual relationships,” Donaldson said.

Ross also referred to a tape and letters Coe sent a Pullman-area prostitute from prison in which he referred to fantasies about urine and feces during sex. The state claims those fixations are part of his mental illness, but Donaldson said they aren’t a factor in whether Coe is likely to reoffend – one of the legal benchmarks for the jury verdict.

“I find almost total lack of evidence for mental abnormality,” said Donaldson, who added that Coe is very unlikely to reoffend because of his age. He is 61.

Coe’s attorneys haven’t yet said whether he’ll take the stand today in the last day of their case. The state then will bring Phenix, their psychologist, back to the witness stand.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Wednesday. Then the case will go to the jury, which must decide whether Coe has a mental abnormality that he can’t control and that makes it likely he’ll reoffend.

Reach Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or at


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