Kevin Coe files federal appeal against civil commitment

SPOKANE, Wash. - Convicted South Hill rapist Kevin Coe has filed a petition in federal court asking that his incarceration at the Special Commitment Center be terminated due to trial errors that led to his commitment in 2008.

Coe, who was convicted of one rape but suspected of committing as many as 43 between the 1970s and early 1980s, filed the petition for Writ of Habeas Corpus with the U.S. District Court in Western Washington on Dec. 20.

In the petition, Coe says his defense counsel at his commitment hearing -- attorneys Tim Trageser and Marla Polin -- were ineffective in failing to ensure the court instructed the jury on the definition of "personality disorder;" that his constitutional rights to due process were violated as he was unable to confront victims of offenses at trial or during pretrial depositions, and that the accumulated errors made during the trial ultimately affected the outcome of his civil commitment trial in 2008, where a Spokane jury found he was a sexually violent predator with a high risk to re-offend.

Following that trial, Coe was committed to the Special Commitment Center on McNeil Island near Tacoma for an indefinite period of time.

Coe claims that because his attorneys failed to request a jury instruction that defined "personality disorder," that the jury was able to "invent its own meaning of this technical term in reaching a verdict. Average jurors do not have the capacity to apply complex psychological concepts -- in the absence of a court instruction."

According to Coe, "average jurors" do not have the capacity of understanding the psychological meaning of personality disorder and because his attorneys did not ask for a jury instruction before deliberation, Coe claims his rights to due process were violated.

Coe also claims his right to due process was violated because he was not allowed to confront witnesses in cross-examination during his trial when prosecutors brought forth five victims to present evidence from crimes Coe was not convicted of.

During the 1970s and early '80s, Coe was suspected of committing 43 rapes on the South Hill but after a trial, various appeals and a retrial, he was convicted of just one rape and sentenced to 25 years in prison. Scheduled to be released in 2006 following the completion of his sentence, the state filed to have Coe classified a sexually violent predator and ultimately, following his civil commitment trial in 2008, he was committed indefinitely to McNeil Island.

On his third point, Coe claimed there was cumulative error during his trial, which led to the violation of his right to due process at trial. Coe asked the U.S. District Court in Tacoma to accept jurisdiction over the case, require prosecutors to respond to his allegations; hold evidentiary hearings; issue an order reversing his commitment as a sexually violent predator and dismiss the state's charge with prejudice, freeing Coe from civil commitment.

Coe previously appealed his case to the Washington Court of Appeals as well as the Washington Supreme Court, which ultimately upheld his commitment in September 2012. In its decision, the state's high court found there were no reversible errors in the case.