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Kevin Coe Revisited: Locked Up for Life September 29, 2012

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Criminal Justice, Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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I had to look up my original post about Kevin Coe, and to my surprise it’s been four years since I wrote it. The wheels of justice grind slowly, or at least the wheels of the justice system. If you go back to that post from October 2008, you can refresh your memory about the serial rapist Fred (Kevin) Coe who had been serving time for 25 years for one rape, the only sentence they could make stick after several other sentences were overturned because of a technicality. When the date for Coe’s release was approaching, the state of Washington decided that he was too dangerous to be let loose, so a new law was applied that allowed the WA court system to commit Coe to a mental institution. And now Coe’s final WA Supreme Court appeal has been denied, and his life will be spent on McNeil Island (barring new developments, of course).

Coe and his attorneys appealed his commitment on the argument that Superior Court Judge Kathleen O’Connor erred when she allowed assistant attorneys general to introduce evidence from 36 sexual assaults that did not result in criminal charges against Coe. They also contended that he had ineffective counsel and that he deserved a new trial.

“Finding no reversible error in any of Coe’s claims, we affirm his commitment,” Justice Susan Owens wrote for the majority.

“In general, I believe allegations of uncharged crimes should not be admitted into evidence,” Chambers wrote. “Experts should not act as funnels to allow lawyers to get into evidence through their expert opinion what is otherwise inadmissible.”

Yet, Chambers noted that he agreed with the decision to uphold the conviction because of the “unusual elements” of the case.

“In many, though not all, of the uncharged crimes, the perpetrator put fingers into victims’ mouths; attempted to induce the victim to urinate or defecate upon him; and asked personal and offensive questions,” he wrote. “The overwhelming untainted evidence supports the jury’s verdict.”

The decision likely ends Coe’s legal pursuit of exoneration after his arrest in 1981, following dozens of rapes attributed to the so-called South Hill rapist.

In my  post from 2008 I expressed my satisfaction with the judges’ decision, but at the same time I found it disturbing that principles seemed to be pushed aside for the sake of pragmatism. I can’t say I’ve changed my mind—I am still relieved that Coe is not going to be out and about, and I still find a forward-looking approach to justice disquieting. But look how common sense prevailed, in Chamber’s note. They had the guilty person all these years, he made so many women suffer and never had to answer for it except for one case, and now—he is not being punished for something he hasn’t been convicted of doing, but the community is being kept safe based on evidence of habitual activities. Justice.