"Most Coe convictions reversed; he could go free in 3-1/2 years"

KEVIN COE, Defendant

Seattle Times

Associated Press and United Press International

OLYMPIA -- The state Supreme Court today reversed two of the three convictions of Kevin Coe in the South Hill rapist case in Spokane, raising the possibility he could be free within 3-1/2 years.

The reversals mean Coe will face a much shorter sentence than the life term plus 55 years he is now serving at the Washington State Penitentiary at Walla Walla.

David Allen and Richard Hansen, Coe's attorneys, said this morning that Coe could serve 10 years or less on the remaining conviction and, with credit for the 6-1/2 years he has already served, it would leave roughly 3-1/2 years.

The prosecution sees it a little longer.

"If the information I got is accurate," said Spokane Prosecutor Donald Brockett, "the conviction on the count (that stands), he was sentenced to 25 years. The parole board set 15 years, and with one-third off for good time, and having served about six years already, he will serve another four years before he's released."

The defense attorneys, however, stressed they were speculating on how much longer Coe would remain at Walla Walla. The specific time will be established by the state parole board, which retains jurisdiction over Coe.

The decision marked the second time the court has dealt with Coe, who was originally charged in 1981 with six counts of rape and convicted on four.

In the first appeal, the nine-member court reversed all four rape convictions. Coe was convicted in 1985 for a second time on three of the four counts.

Four members of the court agreed in today's decision that during Coe's 1985 retrial in King County the judge improperly allowed testimony and identification of Coe as the assailant on two of the counts. They were joined in the majority opinion by two judges who voted to overturn all three convictions against Coe. Three justices dissented and urged that all three convictions stand.

The majority found that the trial court had ignored the Supreme Court's rulings in a series of 1985 cases, including Coe's first appeal.

Those rulings stated that two of the victims' identification of Coe as their assailant was inadmissible because they had been hypnotized by police.

The majority opinion held that the conviction on the third rape count should stand because the witness had not been hypnotized before positively identifying Coe.

Two justices who supported the reversals dissented on that part of the court's ruling, saying the use of two hypnotized witnesses prejudiced the jury beyond hope of reaching an unbiased verdict about the third victim, who had not been hypnotized.

Allen, who spoke with Coe this morning on the phone about the decision, said, "Coe was very disappointed he didn't win on all three, but he's philosophic."

Brockett called the court's ruling a "tragedy for the community."

"I'm happy that the court affirmed on one count, and of course disappointed it reversed on the other two," he said. "As I understand it, the other two counts can't be retried."

"The thing most disappointing to me," Brockett said, "is that the Supreme Court had the opportunity to tell us about this (hypnosis issue) before the second trial."

In another part of its ruling, the court rejected defense contentions that Coe's case was prejudiced by a ruling in the second trial that effectively blocked testimony of Coe's mother, Ruth, about his movements and personal life during the time of the rapes.

Judge Patricia Aitken ruled that Ruth Coe could be cross-examined about her conviction of soliciting the murders of the judge at the first trial and Brockett.

Both Coe and his father, Gordon, were available to give the same evidence.

Aitken's bailiff, Gaye Van Walker, said Aitken was in court this morning, and the judge would not comment on the reversals since the matter may come before her again.

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