Retrial on Rape Charges, with Testimony of Hypnotized Victims at Issue
SEATTLE (AP) _ Kevin Coe, a newspaper executive’s son accused of being Spokane’s notorious ″South Hill rapist,″ faces retrial Monday, with testimony from rape victims who were hypnotized to aid their memories a prominent issue.
Coe, 37, was convicted 31/2 years ago in Spokane of raping four women - ranging from a 15-year-old girl returning home from a rock concert to a 51- year-old woman out for an early morning jog.
The so-called ″South Hill rapist,″ who posed as a jogger and jammed his gloved fingers down victims’ throats, was blamed for nearly 40 sexual assaults between 1978 and 1981. Because of the extensive publicity the rapes and trial generated in Spokane, authorities moved Coe’s retrial here.
Coe, sentenced to 75 years plus life, served more than three years in the state penitentiary before the Washington Supreme Court overturned his convictions last summer, citing numerous errors by the judge and prosecutor.
Among its findings, the high court said the trial judge allowed improper testimony from witnesses who had been hypnotized to help restore their memories - a practice it called ″unreliable,″ saying witnesses who have been hypnotized tend to fill the gaps in their memories with fantasies.
Witnesses may testify about facts they recalled before hypnosis, if the prosecution can prove what those pre-hypnotic memories were, the court said.
In late December, after 71/2 days of pretrial testimony, King County Superior Court Judge Patricia Aitken ruled that three rape victims who were hypnotized before picking Coe out of a police lineup could repeat those identifications at the retrial.
The women identified Coe on the basis of their pre-hypnotic memories of the rapist, said Ms. Aitken. The fourth victim was never hypnotized; she, too, picked Coe out of the same lineup.
Defense lawyers promised to appeal Ms. Aitken’s ruling early Monday to a panel of state Supreme Court justices. The court’s high commissioner, who screens cases for the justices, on Friday refused to grant either a delay of the trial or a review of Ms. Aitken’s decision.
Defense lawyers Richard Hansen and David Allen, who handled Coe’s appeal to the Supreme Court, termed Ms. Aitken’s ruling an ″obvious error″ and said she was making the same mistakes Superior Court Judge George Shields made in the first trial in Spokane.
But Supreme Court Commissioner Geoffrey Crooks, while conceding the defense had ″a very good issue here,″ noted that pretrial review is rarely granted and said he could find no ″probable error″ that would mandate such review.
The arrest and trial of the clean-cut defendant, son of Gordon Coe, then managing editor of the Spokane Chronicle newspaper, made Coe a household word in Spokane.
Coe’s mother, Ruth, was convicted in 1982 of trying to hire a hit man to murder Shields and the prosecutor, Donald Brockett. She served close to a year in a work-release program.
Coe has acknowledged he jogged frequently on the South Hill, but said he was only trying to catch the rapist himself. His mother testified she helped him in that effort.
After his conviction, lawyers tried to have Coe committed to a mental hospital instead of being sent to a prison, claiming he was a sexual psychopath. But when they failed in that effort, Coe reasserted his innocence on all counts.
Coe’s parents, now retired, have exhausted their financial resources trying to clear their son’s name and live on small pensions in suburban Edmonds, defense lawyers say.Coe has lived with them since his release Dec. 10 on $100,000 bail.