The Spokane judge who will preside over rapist Kevin Coe’s civil commitment trial this fall has decided that 21 women on a state list of uncharged rape and indecent liberties accusations can be included in the trial to determine whether Coe is a violent sexual predator likely to rape again.
Among the 17 rape cases allowed to proceed, “I find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the perpetrator was Mr. Coe,” Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen M. O’Connor said in the decision released Friday.
The state is “very pleased” with O’Connor’s ruling, said Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers, the lead attorney in the state’s case against Coe.
“This is an extremely significant ruling. She defined the universe of admissible evidence that we and Mr. Coe’s defense lawyers can use as we prepare for trial,” Bowers said Friday.
The state originally sought to introduce evidence of 44 alleged victims and retained a psychologist who said Coe was suspected of between 50 and 100 additional offenses, said Tim Trageser, Coe’s court-appointed attorney. Trageser had sought to exclude the untried cases.
The fact that O’Connor concluded the state may only introduce 17 alleged rapes and lacks sufficient evidence for the others “is significant and contradicts the myth that Mr. Coe is the ‘South Hill rapist,’ ” Trageser said.
At trial, Trageser said he will introduce evidence that many of the 17 alleged victims “did not and cannot identify Coe as the perpetrator” – and in fact originally identified other people in police lineups. Coe was acquitted of two of the offenses that will now be introduced at the civil commitment trial.
Coe, dubbed the South Hill rapist by the media after a wave of sexual assaults in Spokane starting in the 1970s, was convicted of one count of rape on Oct. 23, 1980, and served a maximum sentence at the Washington State Penitentiary. He was denied parole twice.
Coe was scheduled to be released in September 2006, but the Washington attorney general’s office moved to have him declared a sexually violent predator. Coe’s trial is scheduled to start Sept. 15.
O’Connor said she’ll allow a state expert, Dr. Robert Keppel, to present his “signature analysis” that concluded 17 of the alleged rapes were similar in method to the one rape for which Coe was convicted. Coe’s defense attorneys, Trageser and Marla Polin, will present their own expert to rebut Keppel.
O’Connor also will allow use of a state database in which Coe’s behavior and rituals were compared against thousands of other sexual assault cases. Coe’s lawyers, in their motions, have said the database is unreliable.
Coe’s civil trial is not a criminal proceeding and the rules of evidence are different. The state must establish that Coe has already been convicted of rape, suffers from an abnormality that makes it difficult for him to control his sexual urges, and show that his deviance makes him “more likely than not” to commit predatory acts of sexual violence if he’s released.
The rules governing civil commitment trials allow the use of testimony from some prior victims so a jury can weigh Coe’s propensity for future violence, O’Connor noted.
O’Connor omitted one woman raped on May 12, 1980, who was unable to identify her attacker and whose rape doesn’t fit the state’s “signature analysis.”
O’Connor also ruled on the scope of what state expert Dr. Amy Phenix, a California psychologist, can present during the trial. Coe’s defense lawyers had sought to bar her from relying on untried sexual offenses that weren’t rapes.
Phenix and Trageser tangled last year over the questioning of Coe about the uncharged offenses for her psychological analysis, and O’Connor temporarily found Trageser in contempt of court until Phenix finished her report.
According to court records, Phenix diagnosed Coe as suffering from four mental abnormalities that cause him to have anti-social personality disorders and tend to make him aroused by forced sexual contact.
O’Connor ruled Phenix may include four of six people who accused Coe of indecent liberties – including a high school student who met Coe at a school dance in Spokane in 1966 and asked him to drive her home.
According to court records, the girl said Coe didn’t rape her, but he parked his car and got on top of her, shaking violently as he pinned her to the seat. She got his license plate number, which police traced to a car owned by the late Gordon H. Coe, Coe’s father and the editor of the Spokane Daily Chronicle. No charges were filed in the case.
Among the two cases O’Connor disallowed was an allegation of childhood sexual abuse. “C.M.” was a second-grader when he lived with Coe and his former wife in Las Vegas in 1975 and 1976. He told his grandmother about the alleged abuse after Coe was arrested for the South Hill rapes, court records say.
The exclusion of his case is significant, Trageser said, because Coe is not diagnosed as being a pedophile.
There were originally 44 people on the state’s potential witness list from the incidents alleged to have occurred more than a quarter century ago, but some could not be located or have died, Bowers said.
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