Sexual assault victims testify at Coe commitment trial
Spokane broadcaster Shelly Monahan strode into the Spokane County Courthouse on Monday and told a graphic, painful story of her rape on Sept. 9, 1979 – part of a string of violent assaults on women that terrorized the community.
Monahan, a former disc jockey known as “Sunshine Shelly,” appeared this year on national television describing her assault. Although The Spokesman-Review generally does not name victims of sexual assault, Monahan has not shied away from being publicly identified.
Prospective jurors named her repeatedly this month during jury selection for Kevin Coe’s civil commitment trial as the South Hill rape victim they remember most.
The trial is to determine if Coe will be set free – he has served a 25-year prison sentence for one 1980 rape – or be detained as a violent sexual predator. Many believe Coe is the so-called “South Hill rapist” who assaulted more than 40 women from 1978 and 1981. The trial is expected to last six weeks.
Monahan has never testified in court because she couldn’t identify Coe as her rapist and her case never led to charges. She was called to Coe’s new trial by the Washington attorney general’s office as part of its effort to prove that Coe is a dangerous, mentally ill sexual predator.
In response to questions by Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers, Monahan looked directly at the jury and said she was beaten in the face, strangled and violently raped.
“He also threatened to kill me,” Monahan said.
The state asserts that Monahan’s rape fits a pattern of violent rapes in which Coe is the perpetrator – although he was convicted of only one rape that withstood appeals.
Coe is “unrepentant and untreated” and should be committed to a mental institution as a violent sexual predator, Bowers said in his opening statement Monday.
Coe’s lawyer, Tim Trageser, said an expert for the defense will challenge the state’s assertion that Coe is mentally ill and aroused by non-consensual sex.
“Not all rapists are mentally disordered – it’s the select few that are,” Trageser said.
The defense expert also will rebut the state’s assertion that Coe is highly likely to reoffend – saying the chance of a 62-year-old committing forcible rape is very low, Trageser added.
Bowers gave vivid details of the October 1980 rape of a woman who had just moved to Spokane with her husband. She was returning home on the bus to her unfamiliar South Hill neighborhood after her first day of work downtown.
Coe jumped out from behind a motor home, grabbed the woman, “J.H.,” and shoved a gloved hand down her throat before raping her, Bowers said.
She got a good look at Coe and identified him in a police lineup. He was convicted of first-degree rape and served 25 years in the Washington State Penitentiary.
Many behaviors Coe exhibited in the rape of J.H. – including the gloved hand, crude sex talk and threats to use a knife – were repeated with other women Coe is suspected of raping, Bowers said.
The state began its case with the oldest incident first, calling a woman who was 16 in May 1966 when, she said, she met Coe at a dance and asked him for a ride home.
He parked his car in a wooded area, got on top of her and forcefully pinned her to the seat while he shook violently, she said. He later dropped her off downtown, and she wrote down his license plate. No charges were ever filed in the case because her mother didn’t want to pursue it, the woman said.
Another woman said she was asleep in her apartment on Maple Street in 1971 and was awakened by a man who had his penis “rubbing around” on her stomach and was fondling her. She recalled he had “weird eyes” and she screamed. Three male friends chased him out of the apartment building, and he was apprehended, said the woman, who was 20 at the time of the incident.
In a videotaped deposition taken by the state earlier this year, Coe said he’d wandered into the apartment by mistake after an allergic reaction to medicine he’d taken and thought he was in the Los Angeles apartment of a friend.
Coe denied assaulting the woman.
“I didn’t touch her. … I never made any contact,” he said in the taped interview.
Coe, dressed in a cap and sporting a long beard in the videotape, looked dramatically different from his courtroom attire this week – short hair, blue blazer and dress shirt.
A retired police detective disputed Coe’s version of the assault in testimony this afternoon.
William Gasperino said Coe gave police a four-page, handwritten statement and never said he was disoriented and thought he was in L.A. Coe was arrested on burglary and indecent liberties charges, Gasperino said.
The incidents described Monday are among 21 cases of sexual assault and rape – most unadjudicated – that Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor has allowed to be introduced in Coe’s civil commitment trial.
Security was tight Monday at the Spokane County courthouse as the press and public arrived on the fourth floor for the opening day of testimony.
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