Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Case of the Century: Lawyers, Judges and Journalists Reflect on the Case of Kevin Coe, Rapist in Spokane South Hill, 40 Years Later

Forty years later, the passion remains with two women who find themselves at the center of the trial of Kevin Coe, a notorious South Hill rapist who is in a sexual predator detention center in Western Washington.

“I viewed my role as prosecutor as wearing a white hat,” said Patricia Thompson, who was the only female prosecutor in the late 1970s under then-Attorney Donald Brockett who was leading Coe’s trial.

Julie Twyford, who served on Coe’s defense team during this trial of six counts of rape that terrorized wealthy neighborhoods in Spokane, remembered events differently, especially the prosecution’s use of records related to an old store burglary charge against Coe in court. …

“It was done to make the guy look bad,” Twyford said. “This line has been crossed.”

The exchange was part of a three-hour lifelong learning symposium held at Gonzaga Law School on Friday, 40 years after Coe’s shocking arrest in March 1981, when he persecuted and raped women and girls at the age of 14.

Coe was arrested after investigators became aware of a series of attacks on bus routes in Spokane. Detective Rich Jennings, who had joined the Spokane Police Department during Expo ’74 and was transferred to the rapist’s case for his role as a drug detective, recalled hiding in trees looking for tails on “baits” that the department used in an attempt to lure out of the culprit. They also tracked the Coe family’s Chevrolet Citation with a tracker.

“We got up at 3:30, 4 am, and I tried to triangulate with this device,” Jennings said.

The groups also included journalists from The Spokesman-Review and the Spokane Chronicle. Rick Bonino, who worked for The Spokesman-Review, said the newspaper’s work on the case caused the Police Department to block the journalists.

“They stopped providing the media with any reports of rape, and we regularly had access to all reports of crimes,” Bonino said.

The newspaper published stories not to catch the rapist, but to illustrate how the Police Department conducted its investigation, said Sean Higgins, who was the newspaper’s assistant editor-in-chief at the time.

“Our job was to shed light on the police department and its quest to find the rapist,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Chronicle’s reporters and editors worked for Coe’s father, Gordon, who was the editor-in-chief of the newspaper.

“One day I come to work and the headline in The Spokesman-Review says ‘South Hill Rapist Arrested’ and this is the son of our bosses,” said Bill Morlin, who was a reporter at the time. and editor of the Chronicle. “And we were all terrified. Gordon Coe was not in the newsroom that day. ”

Morlin recalled how editor # 2 at the newspaper jumped onto the table and announced that the Chronicles would cover the story without favoritism. He also recalled the shock when he learned that the suspect was a classmate of his at Lewis & Clark School.

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But the link between the suspect and the editor of a city newspaper did not go unnoticed by the Spokane Police Department, Jennings said.

“I have a bundle of so-called squad reports. These were reports that were not filed with the archive, ”Jennings said. “These were reports that were kept internally by the company.”

According to Jennings, the squad is housed in an empty house on South Hill. Phones from home and from home were not linked to the phones of the police department.

“We had to be very careful with this because Fred Coe’s father worked for [the Chronicle]he continued, using the name by which Kevin Coe was known until 1982. “So we knew there was a chance of a leak.”

Coe’s original conviction was overturned over fears that the testimony had been tainted by hypnosis. One of the convictions went through two appeals and was the reason Coe was jailed until 2008 and then sent to McNeill Island after a civil trial.

Twyford said she believes the Coe family’s decision to admit him to one of the rapes in an attempt to place him in a hospital rather than a prison after his initial conviction is the only reason he remains in custody today. She called it “the case of the century in Spokane.”

“I think if it hadn’t happened,” she said, “this guy wouldn’t have existed 40 years ago.”

The trial was overseen by Spokane County Judge Kathleen O’Connor and covered by some of the same journalists who reported on the original crimes. Karen Dorn Steele, who joined the Spokane Chronicle after being raped after a career on public television, covered a civil lawsuit for The Spokesman-Review. Both women participated in the second of two law school groups on Friday.

“By the time this third trial began, attitudes towards women and rape had changed in our society,” Dorn Steele said. Both she and John Webster, a court reporter for the Spokane Chronicle during Coe’s early trials, remembered a Spokane police lieutenant who, in response to a series of rapes, encouraged women to learn to “lie and enjoy it.”

Friday’s symposium was not intended to glorify the case, said Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, before the discussion began. The program included a moment of silence for the victims and an actor reading a victim statement from one of Coe’s victims, who was 15 at the time.

“Victims of sexual assault are some of the bravest people I have ever known,” said Attorney Thompson.

“You can’t handle a sexual assault case without a victim.”

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