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Originally published Monday, September 29, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Civil-commitment trial for rapist Kevin Coe under way in Spokane

Kevin Coe is an unrepentant, untreated sexual predator who should be locked up indefinitely with similar criminals, a state prosecutor told a jury Monday in opening statements of Coe's civil-commitment trial. But Coe's attorney said his client is not mentally ill and should be released because he has completed the 25-year sentence for the single rape conviction that stood up in court.

The Associated Press

SPOKANE — Kevin Coe is an unrepentant, untreated sexual predator who should be locked up indefinitely with similar criminals, a state prosecutor told a jury Monday in opening statements of Coe's civil-commitment trial.

But Coe's attorney said his client is not mentally ill and should be released because he has completed the 25-year sentence for the single rape conviction that stood up in court.

"He is 62 years old and statistically it is more probable than not that there is zero likelihood that he will reoffend," attorney Tim Trageser said in his opening statements, although Coe will not turn 62 until February.

A Spokane County Superior Court jury of eight women and four men will hear evidence from victims and alleged victims of Coe, plus crime and mental-health experts, in a trial expected to last six weeks. The case has revived the terror of the so-called South Hill Rapist crimes from the 1960s to the early 1980s, in which dozens of women were raped in the Spokane neighborhood before Coe was captured in 1981.

Coe was originally linked by police to more than 40 rapes, but was convicted of four. Appellate courts threw out three of those convictions, leaving Coe with a single rape conviction. He served 25 years, completing his sentence in 2006.

Coe has steadfastly maintained his innocence, refusing even to undergo treatment in prison that might have shortened his sentence on the grounds that it would have meant confessing he was a rapist.

The state contends Coe suffers from mental disorders that prevent him from controlling his sexual behavior, and that he is a danger to reoffend.

"From 1966 to 1981, this man Kevin Coe, also known as Fred Coe, committed a series of increasingly violent sex offenses in Spokane," said Todd Bowers, an assistant state attorney general prosecuting the case.

"He has never take responsibility for his offenses," Bowers said, as Coe, dressed in gray slacks and a navy blazer, sat nearby. "He is unrepentant and untreated."

The state must convince the jury that Coe's mental illness causes him to be aroused by the control aspect of rape. To do that they will present 18 victims of rape, including women Coe was convicted of raping, and women he was never charged with raping.

Prosecutors will argue that Coe had a criminal "signature" that was evident in the rapes. That signature included grabbing victims from behind, stuffing his hand in their mouth, making sure they did not get a good look at his face, and making conversation with them during the rape, Bowers said.

At one point, Bowers referred to Coe as the South Hill Rapist, but then corrected himself because Judge Kathleen O'Connor has ruled that the term cannot be used in court since Coe was convicted of only one rape

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Trageser argued that his witnesses will show Coe is not mentally ill. That's important because this is a mental-illness commitment trial, not a criminal trial, Trageser said.

"He has a lot of control over what he does," Trageser said.

After 25 years in prison and two more years in custody awaiting this trial, Coe has not shown signs of being mentally ill or a sexual predator, Trageser said.

"You cannot hide that for a quarter century," he said.

In 1990, Washington became the first state to create a program to keep behind bars people determined to be at risk of committing more sex crimes even after they have completed their sentences.

Coe's crimes attracted national attention, especially after his late mother, Ruth Coe, tried to hire a hit man to kill the judge and prosecutor assigned to his case. His father, the late Gordon Coe, was an editor at the now-shuttered Spokane Chronicle and directed coverage of the South Hill Rapist stories until his son was arrested.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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