October 17, 2008 in City

Jury shuts door on Coe

Unrepentant rapist must seek treatment, or will never walk freeCivil commitment verdict sends Coe to McNeil Island
By The Spokesman-Review
 
JESSE TINSLEY THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW photo

Kevin Coe is led from the courtroom Thursday after a jury decided he should be civilly committed after a 25-year sentence for rape.THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Kevin Coe is a dangerous sexual predator who should be locked away indefinitely on an island in Puget Sound, a jury ruled Thursday.

The verdict came quickly – jurors deliberated about six hours, starting Wednesday afternoon – ending a monthlong trial punctuated by hours of explicit testimony from women who said Coe raped and molested them.

For jurors, the testimony was difficult to hear, their task draining.

“I haven’t slept well for three weeks,” said Mattias Herzog, a Spokane stockbroker and North Side resident who served as the presiding juror in Coe’s civil commitment trial.

“I hope people don’t think this was easy for us. It was very difficult,” said D’lyn Bruce, a medical claims administrator from Liberty Lake.

Coe, 61, will be transferred from the Spokane County Jail to the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island – a mental facility where he must seek treatment if he wants to ever walk free.

Herzog said Coe had “zero credibility” with the jurors as he denied assaulting as many as 33 women, including Julie Harmia, whose October 1980 rape sent Coe to prison for 25 years.

“Nothing in his story added up. We felt the state laid out a clear case,” Herzog said.

The jury’s quick verdict surprised Coe’s lawyers, but not the lawyers from the Washington attorney general’s office who petitioned in 2006 – when Coe was about to be released from prison – to commit him as a sexually violent predator with a mental disease.

For victims, a sense of relief

Spokane broadcaster Shelly Monahan listened Thursday with her husband, Steve Cain, as Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor read the jury’s verdict.

Monahan was among Coe’s alleged victims whose cases were never charged. Her nose was broken when she was grabbed from behind in September 1979 and raped in a dark South Hill field near the radio station where she worked.

Monahan’s reaction to Thursday’s verdict: “Relief – and thanks.” She had tears in her eyes as she hugged Coe’s jail guards, the state’s two attorneys, victim-witness coordinators from the Spokane County prosecutor’s office and jurors.

In an interview, Monahan said Coe once called her from prison when she was working as a TV weather reporter.

“He identified himself as Kevin Coe and said I was the first person he’d come to kill when he was released,” Monahan said.

As they talked in the courthouse hallway, juror and pharmacy manager Lynn Tiplady told Monahan the jurors had paid close attention to her testimony.

“Your rape was more violent. It was apparent he was after you,” Tiplady said.

Monahan and Julie Harmia appeared on “Dateline NBC” this year to tell their stories, and both agreed to be identified.

Harmia, reached at her home in Yakima, said: “I’m just about to open a bottle of champagne. I’ve been on pins and needles.”

Lawyer plans appeal

Coe showed little reaction to the verdict, talking briefly with his lawyers and keeping his head down as he was escorted in handcuffs back to the jail, where he lived during his trial.

Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers praised the verdict, saying Coe could be released someday but only if he admits to raping women and seeks treatment. Only a few of the roughly 170 people at the Special Commitment Center, run by the Department of Social and Health Services, have been conditionally released, he said.

Coe “holds the keys to the door,” Bowers said. “He’s never admitted anything and has never gotten involved in treatment. That’s what was so striking about this case.”

Coe will be transferred back to McNeil Island within a few days, Bowers said.

Tim Trageser, Coe’s lawyer, said he’ll immediately appeal the verdict, in part because of O’Connor’s denial of his motion to move the trial out of Spokane, where memories of the “South Hill rapist” remain vivid. The jurors in Coe’s two criminal rape trials in 1981 and 1985 were from Seattle.

Appeals are standard in civil commitment cases and can drag out for years, Bowers said.

An ‘adverse’ witness

The decision to civilly commit Coe had to be unanimous. There was some disagreement when jurors first met Wednesday afternoon to start their deliberations.

“At first, I was ready to let him out,” said juror Joel Wilborn, a foster parent and former undercover police officer in Tennessee. “But as we went through the evidence, it was a shining light,” he said.

In the end, the jury decided the state’s 1990 Sexually Violent Predator Act applied to Coe, agreeing with the state that it is narrowly aimed at locking up the rare rapist with a dangerous mental illness. The Washington Supreme Court rebuffed a legal challenge to the act in 1993, and the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld its constitutionality in 1997.

The jurors said they believed the state’s expert psychologist, Dr. Amy Phenix, who testified Coe had a mental abnormality and couldn’t control his urges, over defense psychologist Dr. Ted Donaldson, who said there was a low risk that Coe would re-offend.

The defense’s task was to convince the jury Coe was an “ordinary” rapist as opposed to a mentally ill, “paraphilic” rapist.

His attorneys said inclusion of rape victims’ testimony in the trial was unfair, because most of the rapes were never charged and some of the women couldn’t identify their attacker.

But Coe kept displaying his indifference to the jury, and that hurt him, Herzog said.

When the state called him as an “adverse” witness, Coe did a rhetorical dance with Assistant Attorney General Malcom Ross.

“What is your risk to re-offend in the future?” Ross asked him.

“My risk to offend?” parried Coe, who denied he’d raped anybody despite an earlier confession to the late psychiatrist Dr. Robert Wetzler about the Feb. 9, 1981, rape of a 20-year old woman.

“Zero,” Coe answered.

The state juxtaposed Coe’s answers on a videotaped deposition taken earlier this year with live testimony of a number of women who said Coe sexually assaulted them. For instance, one woman said she awoke in her apartment in May 1971 to find a stranger with “evil eyes” who had his fingers in her vagina and was rubbing his penis on her stomach. She screamed, and some residents of her building chased and apprehended Coe.

In the deposition, Coe denied the assault and said he was in the woman’s apartment because he’d become “disoriented” after taking an allergy pill. He thought he was at a friend’s place in Los Angeles, Coe said.

“We got a kick out of the L.A. excuse,” Wilborn said.

Reach Karen Dorn Steele at (509) 459-5462 or at karend@spokesman.com.

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