The passion remains 40 years later for two of the women at the center of the trial of Kevin Coe, the infamous South Hill rapist who is confined to a detention center for sexual predators in western Washington.
“I saw my role as a prosecutor as one of wearing the white hat,” said Patricia Thompson, who, in the late 1970s, was the only female prosecutor working under then-prosecutor Donald Brockett, and who handled the Coe trial.
Julie Twyford, a member of Coe’s defense team in this trial of six counts of rape that terrorized wealthy Spokane neighborhoods, recalled the events differently, particularly the prosecution’s use of records related to a old shoplifting charge that was brought against Coe at trial.
âIt was to make the guy look bad,â Twyford said. “This line has been crossed.”
The exchange was part of a three-hour continuing education symposium held at Gonzaga Law School on Friday morning, 40 years after Coe’s shocking arrest in March 1981 as the man targeted and raped women and girls as young as 14 years old.
Coe’s arrest came after investigators learned of a series of attacks along bus routes in Spokane. Detective Rich Jennings, who joined the Spokane Police Department during Expo ’74 and transferred to the rapist case from his role as a drug detective, recalled hiding in the trees, looking for tails on “decoys” that the department was using to try to lure the perpetrator. They also tagged a Chevrolet Citation belonging to the Coe family with a tracker.
âWe were up at 3:30 am, 4 am, and I was trying to triangulate with this device,â Jennings said.
The panels also included reporters from The Spokesman-Review and The Spokane Chronicle. Rick Bonino, who worked for The Spokesman-Review, said the newspaper’s work on the case prompted the department to block reporters.
âThey stopped providing the media with rape reports, and we had regular access to all the crime reports,â Bonino said.
The newspaper was publishing articles not to capture the rapist, but to illustrate how the police department was investigating, said Shaun Higgins, who was the newspaper’s deputy editor at the time.
“It was our job to shed light on the police department and their commitment to find the rapist,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Chronicle’s reporters and editors worked for Coe’s father, Gordon, who was the newspaper’s editor.
âI come to work one day, and the headline says, in The Spokesman-Review, that ‘the rapist from South Hill has been arrested, and he’s the son of our bosses,’ said Bill Morlin, who worked at the then as a reporter and editor of The Chronicle. “And we were all aghast. Gordon Coe was not in the newsroom that day.
Morlin remembered the # 2 editor of the newspaper leaping onto a desk and stating that the Chronicle would cover the story without favoritism. He also remembered the shock of learning that the suspect had been his high school mate to Lewis and Clark.
But the connection between the suspect and an editor at one of the city’s newspapers had not gone unnoticed by the Spokane Police Department, Jennings said.
âI have stacks of what we call team reports. These are reports that have not been filed with the Archives Division, âJennings said. âThese were reports that were just kept internally. “
The team was staying at a vacant South Hill home, Jennings said. Phones to and from the home were not linked to those of the police department.
âWe had to be really careful about that, because Fred Coe’s dad worked at (the Chronicle),â he continued, using the Kevin Coe name before 1982. âSo we knew there was a potential for leakage. “
Coe’s original conviction was overturned because the testimony was tainted with hypnosis. One of the convictions has been the subject of two appeals and is the reason Coe was jailed until 2008 and then sent to McNeil Island after a civil engagement trial.
Twyford said she believed the Coe family’s decision to have him admitted to one of the rapes, in an attempt to imprisonment in a hospital and not in jail after his initial conviction, is the only reason he remains in detention today. She called it “the Spokane deal of the century”.
“I think if that hadn’t happened,” she said, “the guy would have come out 40 years ago.”
This trial was overseen by Spokane County Judge Kathleen O’Connor and covered by some of the same reporters who covered the original crime. Karen Dorn Steele, who joined The Spokane Chronicle following the rapes after a career on public television, covered the civil service trial for The Spokesman-Review. The two women sat on the second of two law school panels on Friday.
“By the time this third trial took place, attitudes towards women and rape had changed in our society,” said Dorn Steele. She and John Webster, the Spokane Chronicle forensic reporter during Coe’s first trials, recalled the Spokane Police Lt. who suggested in response to the rash of rape that women should be taught to “relax and enjoy it.” .
The purpose of Friday’s symposium was not to glorify the case, said Jacob Rooksby, dean of Gonzaga Law School, before the discussion began. The program included a minute’s silence for victims and an actor reading a statement from one of Coe’s victims, who was 15 at the time.
“Sexual assault victims are some of the bravest people I have ever known,” said prosecutor Thompson.
“You can’t have a sexual assault case without the victim.”