Attorneys gave oral arguments Wednesday in an effort to undo the civil commitment of South Hill rapist Kevin Coe, whose legal fight has now moved into its fourth decade.
An attorney representing Coe argued that Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor erred in 2008 when she allowed evidence from several uncharged cases where women alleged that Coe raped them.
Coe also made an argument, through his attorney, of ineffective counsel at his civil commitment trial. The Division III Court of Appeals gave no time frame when judges would rule on the case.
The arguments Wednesday followed more than 230 pages of briefs filed by Coe’s appellate attorney, Casey Grannis, and Assistant Attorney General Malcolm Ross, who represented the state in the trial in October 2008 where a jury determined that Coe was a sexually violent predator who was likely to reoffend if released.
Grannis argued that O’Connor should not have allowed much of the testimony by clinical psychologist Dr. Amy Phenix. Phenix testified early in the case that she reviewed 1,000 Spokane police reports documenting rapes more than 25 years ago and said 23 victims identified Coe as their attacker in crimes that occurred during the decade leading up to Coe’s 1981 arrest.
She also listed another 30 sex crimes in which the victims could not identify their attacker, but said she believed Coe was the perpetrator because of similarities to the other attacks.
At trial, O’Connor allowed evidence from about two dozen of those women to be presented to the jury.
“Evidence of the unadjudicated offenses at issue here … was important to the State’s case,” Grannis wrote in court records. “Coe was unable to cross examine the witnesses at issue. Coe had the right to attack the credibility of the unavailable witnesses and the veracity of their accounts by examining the witnesses themselves.”
But Ross pointed out that there was no evidence in the record that excluded Coe from those offenses that didn’t lead to charges.
“Dr. Phenix’s opinions that Coe is mentally ill and dangerous were supported by an extraordinary amount of evidence. (Twenty-two) of 33 victims discussed at trial made some identification of Coe as the perpetrator who had sexually offended them,” Ross wrote. “Coe’s argument that Dr. Phenix was allowed to relate too much evidence to the jury is a tacit admission of the amount of evidence the State adduced.”
The arguments come 30 years after Coe’s arrest in 1981, following a string of dozens of rapes attributed to the South Hill rapist.
A jury convicted Coe of four rapes, but all of those convictions were overturned on appeal because Spokane police detectives used hypnosis during interviews with witnesses. Former Spokane County Prosecutor Don Brockett refiled the charges, and a second jury in 1985 convicted Coe of three of the original four rape charges.
The state Supreme Court overturned two of those convictions in 1988 on the same hypnosis issue. It left Coe with a single conviction for which he served 25 years in prison. Just before his release, the state announced its intent to civilly commit Coe as a sexually violent predator.
Coe did not attend the hearing Wednesday. He remained at the state’s Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island, where he has been incarcerated since his release from prison in 2006.