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Coe commitment goes to jury

Attorneys finish closing arguments in monthlong trial

Kevin Coe’s fate is in the jury’s hands.

The trial that began Sept. 15 went to jurors Wednesday after closing arguments. State attorneys argued for Coe’s civil commitment; a lawyer for Coe said the state failed to prove he’s a mentally ill sexual predator likely to seek new victims if he’s released.

Coe, 61, remains unrepentant and is likely to strike again, Assistant Attorney General Malcom Ross asserted in his presentation to the eight-woman, four-man jury in Spokane County Superior Court.

“He’s an extraordinarily dangerous person … . A perfect predator,” Ross added.

Coe still denies he committed any of the 33 rapes and other sexual assaults to which state experts have linked him, Ross added, and he has consistently refused to undergo sexual offender treatment.

“Wouldn’t this case be different if he’d come to this court able to face himself?” he asked.

Tim Trageser, Coe’s attorney, said if Coe raped it was because he chose to do so, not because he’s mentally ill. He referred to the 1980 rape of Julie Harmia – the one case among six original rape charges that withstood a series of jury verdicts and appeals.

“We civilly commit people when they lack the power to choose. If you find he had the power to choose, you cannot find he has a mental abnormality. Are you willing to do that? There’s a difference between criminal offenses and mental health offenses,” Trageser said.

Broadcaster Shelly Monahan, who the attorney general’s office said in court documents was likely raped by Coe on Sept. 10, 1979, was in court to hear the state’s closing arguments. Monahan, who testified earlier in Coe’s civil commitment trial, is among a few alleged Coe victims who’ve spoken publicly about their assaults. Monahan was unable to identify Coe at the time, and no criminal charges were filed as a result of her attack.

Ross disagreed with testimony last week by defense expert Dr. Theodore Donaldson that Coe had exhibited no signs of sexual deviancy during the 25 years he spent at the Washington State Penitentiary for the 1980 rape of Harmia.

“It wasn’t Mr. Coe who controlled his behavior – it was the state of Washington,” Ross said.

In a lengthy closing statement, Ross went through every one of the sexual assaults the state has linked to Coe – including Harmia’s rape.

He said state expert Dr. Amy Phenix, a California psychologist, had closely examined police records and other evidence to conclude that Coe was the perpetrator of nearly three dozen sexual assaults.

Phenix concluded Coe is a paraphilic rapist more likely than not to reoffend – the standard for civil commitment under the state’s sexually violent predator law.

But Trageser assailed the Phenix evidence, calling a state database that linked a dozen attacks to Coe “manufactured evidence.” He also told jurors they cannot consider as evidence the old police reports and other documents Phenix used to conclude Coe was responsible for as many as 33 rapes and other sexual assaults.

“It’s extremely difficult in sexually violent predator cases to sift out what is real evidence. … You are not here to punish Mr. Coe for crimes he may have committed that he wasn’t punished for in the past,” Trageser said.

In a rebuttal, Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers said there’s robust evidence that Coe suffers from a mental abnormality and is more likely than not to reoffend.

“Prior to his 1981 arrest, Coe engaged in an escalating pattern of sexual deviancy,” including numerous rapes, brandishing a dildo and running with no shorts along High Drive, Bowers said.

“Can a leopard change his spots?” Bowers asked.

Over defense objections, Ross told the jury a Sherlock Holmes story about Silver Blaze, a racehorse that disappeared one night.

Holmes solved the mystery, calling it the “curious incident of the dog in the nighttime.”

He’d figured out that the dog that didn’t bark outside the barn must have known the perpetrator, indicating an inside job, Ross said.

“This time, we have (another) curious incident in the nighttime … . After Coe was arrested in March 1981, the rapes stopped,” Ross said.

He asked the jury to return a verdict that would keep Coe indefinitely at the state’s Special Commitment Center, a mental facility for sexual predators on McNeil Island.

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

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