by JACOB H. FRIES & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & Y & lt;/span & ou might as well prepare for it -- two months of daily, wall-to-wall coverage of Kevin Coe, the "South Hill rapist," one of Spokane's most infamous criminals. The state, through a civil trial, is trying to keep him in custody despite having served his full 25-year sentence.
Scheduled to start Monday, the trial promises to be anything but ordinary. A pool of 667 potential jurors has been called. Extra security will be on hand, and people entering the courtroom will have to pass through a second round of searches. A separate room with closed circuit television will also be set up to accommodate any overflow crowds.
In addition to the spectacle and grim details of terrible crimes, the trial will recall for many a dark, terrifying moment in the city's history. And as we relive it over the next several weeks, here's a short refresher course on Coe, his accusers, his legal limbo and his legacy.
Kevin Coe was born Fred Harlan Coe in 1947 to parents Ruth and Gordon Coe. He grew up on the South Hill and worked in radio before trying his hand at real estate. In early 1981, he became the prime suspect in a three-year string of rapes that terrorized the city and prevented many women from going out alone. (Police would later come under fire for not devoting more resources to capturing the rapist.)
Officers arrested Coe in March 1981 on a charge of raping a 51-year-old woman at Hart Field. Several other victims would later identify Coe as their attacker, even though he maintained his innocence. Coe would later tell reporters he was actually trying to catch the elusive rapist himself (explaining the odd hours he kept and why he had followed public buses, which several victims had used).
Spokane police ultimately linked some 40 attacks to the South Hill rapist, but Coe was only convicted of four rapes in his initial trial. Those were overturned on appeal because investigators had hypnotized several victims. He was convicted of three rapes in a second trial in 1985, but two of those would be thrown out -- leaving only a single conviction for which he received the 25-year sentence.
Coe still says he's innocent, telling NBC's Dateline earlier this year, "I'm not a threat to anybody and never have been."
The Civil Side
Coe came within days of being released from prison in 2006, before state Attorney General Rob McKenna filed documents requesting a hearing on whether Coe should be civilly committed as a sexual predator.
McKenna wrote: "Respondent's mental abnormalities cause him to have serious difficulty controlling his sexually violent behavior and make him likely to engage in predatory acts of sexual violence unless he is confined to a secure facility."
Coe was then moved from the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla to a facility for sex predators on McNeil Island, southwest of Tacoma. It is the same place he'd be committed to if the jury finds sufficient reason to keep him in custody. He would be held indefinitely until experts determined he was safe to be released.
Washington passed the Community Protection Act of 1990 establishing the civil commitment process, the first in the nation. More than 200 people have been committed to McNeil Island under that law since it was enacted.
While Coe's been convicted of only one rape -- of a woman not hypnotized by detectives -- as many as 17 women might testify during the civil trial. In those cases, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Kathleen M. O'Connor, the presiding judge, said in May, "I find, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the perpetrator was Mr. Coe," according to news accounts.
It's unclear whether KHQ's Shelly Monahan will be among those testifying; she declined to comment for this story, saying she had been instructed not to talk about the case. Earlier this year, however, she appeared on a Dateline program examining the case and Coe's upcoming trial. She was attacked as she walked out of work late one night in 1979. "From out of nowhere somebody grabbed me. And then just took his fist and proceed to immediately just start beating the daylights out of my face. At one point he stuck his hand down my throat," she recalled.
Monahan ultimately couldn't identify her attacker, though investigators say Coe -- like her attacker -- shoved his hand down his victims' throats. "I don't think he should ever get out," the broadcaster told Dateline.
Coe's story has been the subject of countless articles, books and even a television movie. The series of rapes -- many of them brazen, all of them horrifying -- seemed all the more scary for the fact they occurred here, in the Lilac City, a place that has often prided itself on isolation from the rest of the world.
The case has had one twist after another. There was the fact Coe's own father, Gordon, the managing editor of the Spokane Chronicle, had directed the paper's coverage of the rapes up until his son was arrested. Then there was Coe's mother, who tried to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor in Coe's initial trial. The list goes on.
Jack Olsen -- a former Time correspondent who's now deceased -- ended up writing a best-selling book titled Son: A Psychopath and His Victims [see pg. 24]. The author was critical of the city's response to the rapes, later telling The Inlander: "Spokane doesn't want to hear bad things about Spokane. I've never seen a town with more boosters," he said. "When they finally did the job -- the job they should have done -- Coe was in custody six days later."