This story originally aired Dateline NBC on June 1, 2008.
SPOKANE — Today, it seems like a dream. Did it really happen here? A specter haunting the shadows --hunting victims? Here? In Spokane..?
President Nixon: It is my high honor and privilege to proclaim Expo '74 ....officially open.
Back in the 1970s, this quiet town by the river -- if only briefly -- was the center of the world when the World's Fair came to town.
But despite those images evoking memories of times so idyllic, so innocent, Spokane, Wash., was soon after under siege with a series of violent sexual attacks of a scope never-before-seen. Attacks that nearly 30 years later had the town in a frantic race to try to stop the specter from returning, and others waiting, wondering if new evidence could somehow provide a final answer to the questions that all started in 1978.
Shelly Monahan: The best way to describe it, is this is something that you hear about elsewhere.
Shelly Monahan is a TV news anchor, who back then was a radio reporter known as "Sunshine Shelly."
Monahan: It's not something that could possibly happen to us, could not possibly happen here!
Sara James: Not in Spokane!
Monahan: Not in Spokane. And it was.
"It" was a string of daring, devastating attacks which seemed to start, almost out of nowhere, near the very spot where the president had launched the World's Fair.
One woman was raped, right here in Riverfront Park.
Then, over the next year, five more rapes. One more attempt.
And the epicenter was Spokane's tony South Hill, the affluent part of town, filled with block after block of handsome homes, manicured parks, and majestic spires.
Monahan: People were absolutely terrified. Women were told not to go out alone. Even during the day. Don't go to the bus stop alone. Don't go jogging alone.
Women armed themselves, with mace and self defense courses.
The whole city seemed to be on edge. As the months passed, Spokane police officers, like now-retired Lt. Gene McGougan (MUH-goo-gun) got a taste of just how paranoid the public was.
Lt. Gene McGougan: I'm hearing a woman on the telephone just going haywire. She's screaming and yelling, she says, "He's here. He's here now." So finally I said, kick the door down. There was nobody in the house! She was hallucinating, I think based upon fear.
But those fears suddenly became all too real for radio personality Shelly Monahan when she walked out of the station late one evening in the fall of 1979.
Monahan: I had my regular show and got off the air, walked out of the building to get into my car. 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. And I bit his hand hard enough to draw blood.
Sara James: You must've thought you were gonna die!
Monahan: Well he told me he was going to kill me.
Beaten nearly senseless, Shelly was then raped.
Monahan: And it was the strangest thing after all of this. He said, "Now before I go I have a couple questions I want to ask you. How do you plan to further your radio career?"
Sara James: How bizarre!
Monahan: Yeah and at that point I couldn't even talk.
And what happened to Shelly Monahan kept happening in Spokane.
Was this one demon who struck, then vanished? Or was there more than one rapist at work? Detectives weren't certain.
Then, in June 1980, two years after the first rape, a new unit chief took over the investigation: Gene McGougan.
McGougan: I read every report that went through that department. And that's when I started noting that we had some one particular individual involved.
Former assistant prosecutor Pat Thompson also remembers her first clue to the fact that the rapes were the work of one man: A distinctive 'signature.' A gloved fist or fingers rammed in the mouth of his victims.
Thompson: I remember one of the doctors telling me that the injuries that he was seeing in the mouth and the throat were the same on so many of the victims that he was seeing, that he knew that it had to be the same person.
By the fall of 1980, authorities were now certain they were searching for one man, a villain the media dubbed "The South Hill Rapist." But who was he? How was he able to move in the shadows, late at night, or early morning? And what did he look like? Attacking, as he so often did, from behind, few women got a good look at his face.
That is, until this woman...
Julie Harmia (HAR-mee-uh) was 27-years-old when she moved to the South Hill, an area on the verge of panic.
Harmia: Mace was sold out of all the stores. Men just automatically moved to the other side of the street if women were jogging.
Sara James: So the level of terror is hard to imagine!
And yet, preoccupied by all she had to do after her recent move, the attacks were the last thing on Julie Harmia's mind when she took the bus home from her very first day of work in Spokane. She got off just blocks from home when a man jogged past her, then turned, and hid behind a car.
Harmia: I thought, well, what's he doing?
Sara James: What did you think he was doing?
Harmia: He must have a buddy and he's jogged ahead of him and he's hiding. And then when his friend comes jogging by he's gonna jump out and scare him and about that time I'd completed my thought he just came up behind me and just grabbed me and drug me into a lot.
The man known as the South Hill Rapist would savagely beat and rape the young mother, and with that 'signature' move: A fist in the mouth.
Harmia: He shoved his hand down my throat and was pinning me to the ground with my tonsils.
Sara James: Did you think you were going to survive it?
Harmia: I didn't know if I was going to live through this. And I played dead for just a minute. Y'know, it was like I just went limp.
Sara James: After he raped you, what did he do then?
Harmia: He said lay here and count to 50 or something. If you look up ahead of time, I'll kill you. I'll come back and I'll kill you.
But Julie Harmia managed to get something something few other victims had: During the attack, she'd gotten a good look at the rapist's face.
Harmia: I was bound and determined, I was going to study his face. And I was gonna memorize it cause I didn't want this to happen to another person if I could stop it.
Here it is: The sketch Julie helped draw of her attacker. Some two-and-a-half years after police believed the South Hill Rapist first struck Spokane, they now had a clearer picture to go with their profile. The suspect was a white male, 5-feet-11-inches, 170 pounds with brown, wavy hair. And Julie offered detectives one more important detail.
Harmia: I remember his voice.
It was very well bred, very educated. Trained like he was a radio announcer or something like that.
After the attack on Julie Harmia, the rapist would strike again: Six more rapes before there'd be a break in the case.
By early 1981, the quiet city by the river had turned skittish. With the South Hill Rapist still on the loose, the people of Spokane, Wash., had been on edge, looking over their shoulders for three long years.
The attacks by this time, numbered nearly 30: Rapes. Attempts. Flashings by a shadowy demon who defied all attempts to stop him.
And victims like Shelly Monahan, the radio personality raped as she left work one night, were living with the results. Her marriage ended. And incredibly, her attacker continued to terrorize her.
Monahan: A phone call came in shortly after I went back on the air. And he said that if I told anybody, he knew where I lived. And he was gonna kill me.I started sleeping curled up in a ball in a closet with a butcher knife. Figuring that, y'know, he'd never find me there.
Suffering too was Julie Harmia, the young mother raped after getting off a bus just days after moving to Spokane. The attacker's final words echoed in her mind.
Harmia: He told me the police were not going to be able to protect me 24 hours a day and that he knew where I lived, and that he would find me, and kill me.
But then another attack here at a track on the South Hill. A woman jogging was raped in broad daylight. Investigators felt the rapist was getting careless.
And it was after this attack that police would get the big break they'd been waiting for: A custodian at a nearby school contacted authorities. He said he had noticed a car parked in the school bus drop off zone. He told police. And before long, the car was traced to a suspect.
Police got a court order. As outlined in these police reports, detectives placed a tracking device -- a bug -- on his car. They gave their suspect the code name "Buster," but discovered it was devilishly difficult to tail a driver who proved both lightning fast and elusive as he barreled through the streets of Spokane after dark.
Sara James: What was he doing?
McGougan: He was driving those courses like a shark going looking for his meal.
Police found he was looking and apparently stalking city buses, which was significant. Julie Harmia, after all, had been raped after getting off a bus. So had at least six other victims.
Now, at Police Headquarters, detectives were conducting line-ups. Julie was stunned when she saw the man known as number three.
Harmia: I knew who he was right away. And I told them, you know, this is a 99-percent.
Sara James: What made you so confident that he was the rapist?
Harmia: Because I'd had the opportunity to see his face.
In March 1981, three years after police believe the South Hill Rapist began his string of attacks that struck terror in Spokane, the face known previously only in sketches finally came into focus.
The suspect was Frederick Harlan Coe, then 34-years-old. He preferred to be called "Kevin." And just as the profile had said, Coe was upper middle class. Educated. And clean cut. He worked -- without much success -- in real estate. A dreamer with big plans but little to show for it. And strangely enough, remember what Julie Harmia recalled about the rapist's voice?
Harmia: Like he was a radio announcer.
And what Shelly Monahan had been asked by her attacker?
Monahan: How do you plan to further your radio career?
It turned out that Kevin Coe had worked as a deejay in Las Vegas.
But many in Spokane were shocked to learn about Coe's background, and his family: Coe's mother was a social figure -- a former charm school teacher. And Coe's father was a newspaper editor, who, unbelievably, was in charge of receiving public tips in the search for the South Hill Rapist.
Though authorities thought Coe might be responsible for as many as 40 rapes, attacks, and flashings, they only had strong enough ID's to charge him with only six rapes, and among those whose cases would not be tried was Shelly Monahan's; she couldn't identify her attacker, not even after police took the unorthodox step of having her hypnotized.
Sara James: You couldn't ID him. That had to be hard?
Monahan: Yes. I felt like I had disappointed all these police officers who had worked so hard on this case.
Just four months later, in Spokane's historic courthouse, in July 1981, the Kevin Coe Case -- the case of the alleged South Hill Rapist -- was going to trial.
Prosecutor Pat Thompson.
Thompson: The trial was probably one of the hottest shows in town. I remember at one point, Princess Diana, she and Charles got married, and I'd heard people had stayed up to watch the wedding, because it was in the middle of the night over here and then come to get in line to come and see the trial!
Sara James: That's how big it was!
And prosecutors presented a strong circumstantial case against Coe. First, he'd received speeding tickets in the very area two rapes had occurred, shortly after the attacks.
And there was the fact that police had observed Coe following buses.
Had prosecutors had today's forensic tools -- namely, DNA -- authorities believe the case would've been a slam dunk. Instead, they had to rely on what physical evidence they had against Coe: The rapist had left type-A blood at the scene of several rapes, and Coe was type A. In addition, the rapist was what's known as a secretor -- which meant his blood type showed up in his bodily fluids, making it easier to identify. Like the rapist, Kevin Coe was a secretor.
And finally, the most compelling moments, as one by one, the victims trudged to the witness stand, and identified Kevin Coe as their rapist.
Sara James: Were you confident that that was the man who'd raped you?
Harmia: Oh, yes. To this day there is no doubt in my mind.
But Coe's defense had a few surprises in store. Coe's family members took the stand, to claim that he could not be the rapist. Although Coe was then in his early 30s, working full-time and living with his girlfriend, his socialite mother testified he'd been with her or his father at the time of each of the dozens of attacks.
What's more, Ruth Coe testified that Kevin was seen following buses because the pair had teamed up as a mother-and-son vigilante squad to catch the real rapist.
Ruth Coe: We went late at night when it was dark, oh, sometimes 11:30, 12, 1, 2, I think the latest we were ever out was about 2:30.
But once testimony ended, the jury was out for just five hours, before delivering its verdict.
Guilty, of four counts of rape.
Harmia: Thank you God, you know?
Sara James: He's away.
Harmia: He's off the street.
Sara James: I'm never going to see him again.
Then at sentencing, a bombshell: A psychiatrist who had been hired by the defense testified that Coe had confessed to one of the rapes. Later Coe would recant. He said he concocted the story thinking he'd be sentenced to a treatment center instead of prison, where he felt his life might be in danger.
Matthews: I mean, that's classic Coe!
Assistant Prosecutor Steve Matthews...
Sara James: When you say 'Classic Coe' what do you mean?
Matthews: He's a man who puts on a face on things and is perfectly comfortable tearing off one face and putting another face on -- even if they're mutually exclusive. Whatever suits his needs is what works for him.
In the end, when the Judge pronounced the sentence, Kevin Coe was ordered to serve life in prison plus 75 years.
The case of the South Hill Rapist was history.
Or was it?
By the fall of 1981, the city of Spokane exhaled.
Kevin Coe was safely tucked away behind 25-foot walls of concrete and rock, at Washington State Penitentiary.
The quiet town by the river was quiet again.
Sara James: Did the attacks stop, Gene?
Lt. Gene McGougan: Yes.
Sara James: You're convinced you put the right man--
McGougan: Oh, there's never been anything even close.
But the Kevin Coe story would not end there. Because just months after his conviction, the Coe family would be in the news again. And this time it would be Coe's mother, socialite Ruth Coe, who would find herself in the headlines. It all started just months after her son's conviction, when police say she heard a friend joke about knowing someone in the mafia.
McGougan: And Mrs. Coe took her aside and said, do you have friends in the mafia? I have somebody I would like eliminated.
When Spokane police heard this, they had an officer pose as a hitman and contact Mrs. Coe. The two soon met in this parking lot, where their every word was caught on tape.
Undercover police: I understand from a friend of mine that you have a job that you need to be performed very discreetly.
Mrs. Coe: Yes. Extremely discreetly.
Remarkably, Kevin Coe's mother, the 61-year-old former charm school teacher, was taped putting out a "hit" on the judge who'd sentenced her son to prison, George Shields, and the prosecutor in charge of the case, Donald Brockett.
Undercover police: Just tell me what you want.
Mrs. Coe: Well, uh, that judge, I'd like him gone, dead. And I'd like both of them dead really, except that with Brockett, I would love to see him just an addlepated vegetable that had to be cared for, that his family had to take care of the rest of his life.
Minutes later, Ruth Coe was under arrest and charged with solicitation to commit murder.
Sara James: Did you think, can this get any stranger? I mean suddenly you've got the mom on trial?
Matthews: I don't think so. I can't imagine how many twists and turns there could be in a story. It was amazing.
Months later, in May 1982, another sensational trial began. Prosecutors had Ruth Coe on tape. What more proof would they need of Mrs. Coe's deadly intentions?
Mrs. Coe: That Judge. I'd like him gone. Dead.
But Ruth Coe pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Defense Attorneys argued that she was mentally ill. Depressed. That she heard voices. No matter. Ruth Coe was convicted. But instead of prison, she was sentenced to serve just one year in a local jail and was even allowed out to attend community college.
Matthews: It was amazing the big finish was, she got like a year of school release. For trying to hire somebody to kill a judge and a prosecutor.
And Ruth Coe's trial helped fuel the fires for the Coe family story truly to become national news. In 1983, a true crime book was published and became a best-seller. Called "Son: A Psychopath and His Victims," it offered an exhaustive look at Kevin Coe's crimes and detailed the odd interaction -- what even looked to some like infatuation -- between mother and son. But what no one knew then was that while the book appeared to have been closed on the Coe family saga, there were new chapters yet to be written.
That's because in June 1984, three years after Kevin Coe's trial, Washington's Supreme Court sent a jolt through the state by tossing out all of Coe's convictions.
Why? Chiefly, because before Coe became the prime suspect as the South Hill rapist, police had been desperate for clues, and had hypnotized many of the victims, hoping for any details of the rapist's identity.
Coe's family rejoiced.
Ruth: Well, my faith in the justice system is returning and now we're looking for acquittal..
Kevin Coe would be released from prison, freed on bail for nearly a year before his retrial would be held, across the state in Seattle.
And the retrial would be a virtual replay of the first trial.
We the jury find the defendant, Kevin Coe, guilty of the crime of rape in the first degree...
Guilty, but this time, of three rapes.
Kevin Coe was headed back to state prison. The sentence? Life plus 55 years.
Sara James: Did you still feel confident that Kevin Coe was going to be in prison for the rest of his natural life?
Thompson: That was my thought at that point in time, yes.
Sara James: Did you have any doubt about it?
But as it turned out, the hypnosis issue was a major problem for prosecutors. Three years later, Washington's Supreme Court threw out two of the three remaining rape convictions for the same reason. Suspected of committing dozens of attacks, Kevin Coe was now serving 25 years for just one.
That person was Julie Harmia.
Sara James: So many of the women were hypnotized. Why weren't you hypnotized?
Harmia: They didn't need to hypnotize me. I saw his face.
And for decades, the conviction in Harmia's case has been the only thing that stood between Coe and freedom.
Until the day when even that might not be enough.
Just months from the end of his prison sentence, Kevin Coe..the man suspected of more than 40 attacks, once convicted of four, serving time now only for one, maintaining his innocence all along, was about to speak out.
At the Washington State Penitentiary, Kevin Coe sat down with Dateline in the summer of 2006. Sent to prison when he was 34, Coe had turned 40 behind bars, survived a knife attack that nearly killed him at 47, then turned 50, and was now nearly 60.
And with all but one of his original four convictions overturned, the man known as the South Hill Rapist had served all but a few months of his sentence: 25 years.
Sara James: Why are you sitting down today with us?
Kevin Coe: To talk about the truth. The facts. The evidence in the case. My side of the case has really never been heard, 25 years into the case.
Sara James: And in a nutshell, what is your side of the case?
Coe: Neither the physical evidence nor the identification evidence matches me at all. They have the wrong person. They have had for 25 years.
Sara James: You're innocent?
Coe: Absolutely. I'm not the South Hill Rapist. I'm not a rapist. I'm not a criminal of any kind. I'm an innocent person, the facts prove it. The evidence proves it.
Despite a half-dozen victims identifying Coe as their rapist, and Coe himself confessing to one rape to a psychiatrist in 1981, in the two-and-a-half decades since, Coe has maintained his innocence. Never once attending a prison counseling session. Amazingly, never even applying for parole.
Sara James: So why haven't you gone to any of your parole hearings?
Coe: Parole hearings? Oh, no, no, no, no. They won't let you go unless you admit guilt. I'm not going to admit guilt. I did nothing wrong. I have been appealing this case for 25 straight years. There was no point at which I was going to go the parole board and say, oh yeah, and let me out.
In fact, all these years later, Coe still claimed to have an alibi for each attack, an alibi his socialite mother testified to, under oath, 25 years before.
Sara James: Your mom says he couldn't have done this. He was with us.
Coe: Oh, yeah. I was with my parents, both, or just my mother or just my dad. At the time of every single one of those.
Sara James: It seems like kind of a coincidence actually doesn't it?
Coe: That's the way my lifestyle was.
And for the woman who provided him with an alibi, Coe even today comes to his mother's defense. Charging that her 1982 conviction for putting out a hit on those who sent him to prison, prosecutor Donald Brockett and Judge George Shields, was a travesty.
Coe: Did she hate Brockett? Oh, yeah. To the day she died, did she hate Shields? Oh yes. To the day she died, they were evil people in her mind. And she was right, but I'm saying to you she never went out looking for a hit man she fell into their trap!
Sara James: Why would an innocent woman do this!? Say she wants to turn the prosecutor into a vegetable? Why do that if you don't want to kill him?
Coe: Well, there's a big difference between saying it and actually doing it.
But now, as we were sitting down with him, Kevin Coe -- one of the most infamous criminals in Washington State history -- was due to be released, free and clear, in just 90 days. It was a fact he claimed hardly to have considered.
Sara James: You haven't allowed yourself to think about that?
Coe: Oh, no.
Sara James: You haven't allowed yourself to think about the first time you go out to have dinner, or the first time...
Coe: Have dinner where? Who's gonna pay for it? I have no money no car, no wardrobe, no job skills. A convicted felon, forget about it. What can you do? Your life is over. You couldn't start over at 19 with all those things going against you, let alone 59. It's preposterous!
He might be asking for pity, but as Coe's release date approached, that wasn't the feeling in Spokane, where a nervous twitch that hadn't been felt in decades began creeping in once again. Coe had served his time. Paid his debt. But that twitch, 28 years after her rape, Shelly Monahan still felt it.
Sara James: Do you think he should get out?
Shelley: No I don't think he should get out. I don't think he should ever get out. if all these years he had tried to seek help, if there was something that he had done to want to get better, different story.
Sara James: But he hasn't?
Shelley: But he hasn't done anything.
Even more worried was Julia Harmia, whose rape case was the only one Coe was still serving time for.
Harmia: You try to do normal things so that it doesn't consume you. But certainly all of the terror comes right back to this day, I have visions of him climbing into the tree in my backyard and being able to look through the window at me. And the police could never keep me safe. That's a vantage point. He could climb that tree and he could watch everything that goes on in my house. And to this day I have that mental image.
In fact, Julie Harmia was so terrorized, that 26 years after her rape, she'd still never even told her own children about the attack, about the panic she still felt and why she was recently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Sara James: So far all these years you've had a major secret?
Harmia: Yes, it was not something I wanted to discuss. It was something I wanted to bury and forget. And just get on with my life and try to create a sense of security for myself again.
Sara James: And yet after all those years not even telling your children, you've now decided to go on national television. Why?
Harmia: Number one, the world has to understand what this man did. And number two, there is some hope that this will help me heal. Because I haven't healed after 25 years.
And one of the detectives who helped put Kevin Coe in prison, is worried for another reason.
McGougan: His mother was good at revenge. I'm not sure what he might do when he gets out.
Sara James: You still think he's a dangerous man?
McGougan: I definitely think he's dangerous.
Sara James: People in Spokane are scared that you're coming back!
Coe: Coming back to Spokane? They should be scared. What they should be scared of is that the wrong man was convicted.
Sara James: Who wants to live next to the South Hill Rapist?
Coe: Believe me, the moment that it's legal for me to leave this state, if that moment ever arrives, I will never set foot in this state ever again. So I wouldn't be known by any such moniker.
Sara James: Kevin if you get out, will you be a threat to women?
Coe: Of course not. I've never committed a crime of any kind in my life. I was a model citizen. I'm not a criminal. I don't commit crimes. I'm not a threat to anybody and never have been.
But as Coe's release date neared, behind-the-scenes there was an unusual effort that could keep Kevin Coe behind bars.
Washington State Penitentiary, June 2006. In less than three months, South Hill rapist Kevin Coe would be a free man. Suspected of dozens of rapes and originally convicted of six, successful appeals had whittled the cases down to just one. His 25-year sentence was about to end.
Coe still proclaimed his innocence.
Sara James, Dateline NBC: Have you ever raped anyone?
Kevin Coe: Absolutely not. I'm not a threat to anybody and never have been.
Harmia: It almost makes me laugh because it's such a blatant lie.
But across the state of Washington, women like Julie Harmia, who'd identified Coe as her rapist, nervously consulted the calendar.
Harmia: If I knew that he was out on the street I would really be uncomfortable. Extremely uncomfortable.
And in Spokane, local news anchor Shelly Monahan, who believes Coe raped her, was equally anxious -- one of thousands who remembered those days, now long ago, when the quiet town by the river was on edge.
Monahan: People are walking up to me, wherever I happen to be and just want to talk about it. This has opened up wounds that are so deep in this community.
But as Coe's release date approached, there were extraordinary steps being taken to keep him behind bars. Back in 1990, Washington's legislators passed The Community Protection Act, which created a way for the state to keep the most dangerous sexually violent predators segregated from society even after their criminal sentences ended.
Rob McKenna: These folks represent a little over one percent of the sex offender population of Washington State. These are the worst of the worst.
Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna, and Assistant Attorney General Todd Bowers.
Sara James: Before you had this, what happened?
Todd Bowers: These people got out.
Sara James: Were there dramatic cases in which they re-offended?
McKenna: Horrible, horrible cases of children being mutilated, of people being raped and murdered.
There were cases like that of Earl Shriner, imprisoned for raping two teenaged girls. Shriner warned authorities he'd do it again -- then kept his word when released, raping and mutilating a young boy.
Or Gene Raymond Kane, who after serving 13 years for two attacks, raped and murdered a woman just months after his release.
Since the controversial new law was passed, providing for civil trials to be held to determine if criminals who'd served their sentence should remain locked up, Washington's courts have committed more than 250 criminals here to McNeil Island in the waters of Puget Sound, a sort of "psychiatric hospital meets Alcatraz." Every person sent here is sent by a jury, which has found that the offender has a so-called "mental defect" that makes him likely to reoffend if released. Here, the offenders receive treatment for mental disorders linked to sexual deviancy. This virtually escape-proof facility is known as the Special Commitment Center for Sexually Violent Predators.
As Kevin Coe's release day loomed, the question became: Did the attorney general believe Coe had the "mental defect" as the law required to commit him to the island?
And if so, would a jury agree?
Kevin Coe: My mental health is perfect. There's nothing wrong with me at all. I'm an innocent man.
Coe bristled at the notion that he could even be considered a candidate for the special commitment center.
Coe: An innocent person shouldn't be facing anything like that. It's preposterous but in terms of just creature comforts, they'd be doing me a favor. That's a palace of fine arts compared to this uh, horror hotel here!
McKenna: Kevin Coe is the most notorious rapist in the state's history.
But the attorney general thought Coe might be a candidate, and launched an exhaustive investigation into Coe's past, his current state of mind, and his potential for danger in the future.
Bowers: We ended up with 67,000 pages of records relating to Mr. Coe, over 40 times as much material as we typically look at in a sexually violent predator case.
Sara James: And why was that?
Bowers: The sheer number of victims but also the notoriety of the case.
Sara James: How problematic is that for you -- that he's only convicted in one case?
McKenna: It isn't that problematic because we don't have to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he commited a particular crime the jury must find that beyond a reasonable doubt he is a sexually violent predator.
Trageser: I think Kevin Coe should just be released!
Coe's attorney, Tim Trageser.
Trageser: His time is up! He served his time. He served the 25 years. And that's it. Those are the rules, he should be out!
Sara James: How significant is it to you that there's only one conviction?
Trageser: I think it's very significant there really is very little with respect to evidence against Mr. Coe, other than what is alleged.
Should a convicted rapist who'd served his time be released? Or should the Attorney General step in to keep him behind bars?
As the debate continued, many longed for the scientific certainty in this case that DNA could provide.
And they would get it.
With the days ticking down in Kevin Coe's 25-year sentence, the police and prosecutors who'd put him in prison back in 1981 were hoping that Washington's attorney general would file papers to keep a man they called a serial rapist locked up in a mental health treatment center.
Sara James, Dateline NBC: Do you think he's still a threat to society?
Steve Matthews, prosecutor: He's a person that I wouldn't think our society ought to take a chance on.
The big question: Could the state prove Coe had a so-called mental defect, as the law required? The attorney general hired new experts to look back at the South Hill rape cases, and re-examine the mountain of evidence that had been accumulated from the crimes.
First, the records showed that a psychiatrist had once labeled Coe a psychopath.
Kevin Coe: I'm not a psychopath.
Sara James: You're not a psychopath?
Coe: No. Certainly not.
Sara James: But if you're a psychopath, then you're a really good liar. And you're lying to me right now.
Coe: And what if I'm innocent?
What's more, a medical expert who examined the record found that Coe suffered from four mental abnormalities, and might re-offend again if not confined to a secure facility.
In addition, a renowned profiler who studied the South Hill attacks noted that at least 18 women were attacked by a man with a signature -- the fist in the mouth and other distinctive patterns -- similar to that used in the rape of Julie Harmia, the one attack Coe remained convicted of.
The attorney general had made his decision. And just days before Kevin Coe was set to be released from prison came this announcement:
McKenna: Our action in petitioning for Coe's civil commitment today will prevent his release until a jury has heard the sexually violent predator case...
The papers had been filed. Kevin Coe would not be released.
Sara James: Do you believe Kevin Coe is still a danger to the people of Washington State?
McKenna: Well, more importantly, I know that medical experts believe he is still a danger to the people of this state.
The process of keeping Kevin Coe locked up resumes today. A hearing is slated for this morning at 9:30.
And in a bizarre twist, back in Spokane, Shelley Monahan would report on the story -- the story of the man she believed raped her. And while she never could identify Coe in a line-up, she will now, two decades later, finally get her day in court.
Monahan: If you think about the fact that I was one of the first rape victims to come full circle and be back in Spokane at a time when all this pain is resurfacing for so many people I guess it is appropriate for me to be here. I'm home.
But before the case would go to court, there'd be a startling discovery: that scientific certainty that some had longed for all these years. A new search of the police department evidence room nearly three decades after the South Hill rapist first truck, turned up a long-lost box of evidence containing a slide from Julie Harmia's rape kit. Finally, there was DNA in the case of the South Hill Rapist. And it was matched to Kevin Coe.
A state investigator came across an evidence slide that matched DNA on file of Kevin Coe.
A DNA match, said the state. A match that meant there was finally 21st-Century scientific evidence linking Coe to the rape of Julie Harmia.
McKenna: Coe is undoubtedly the South Hill Rapist. The evidence is overwhelming.
While Coe's lawyer called the finding of the slide "mysterious," prosecutors said it proved they were right. That despite all his protests of innocence, Coe was in fact guilty. End of story.
But here's the catch: the DNA links Coe to one rape, and it's the rape for which he's already served 25 years in prison. So prosecutors still face a return to court for Kevin Coe's civil trial to try to keep him locked up.
As for Coe, despite his bravado and claims of innocence, he seemed almost resigned to the fact that he may be destined to die behind bars.
Sara James: If you got committed, civilly committed, do you think you would ever get out, Kevin?
Coe: Oh, no. You never get out. No, you never get out from that.
And if he does somehow, someday, get out? In this quiet town by the river, there are still fears even now by the victims who still see the face of the phantom who terrorized them so long ago.
Harmia: I would never have peace. And I'm sure none of the 40 women that are his victims would ever have peace either.
Kevin Coe's civil commitment trial is scheduled to begin in Spokane on Sept. 15.
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