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Suspect in Spokane rapes facing civil trial

A jogger grabbed Julie Harmia as she was walking home from a bus stop, shoved his hand into her mouth, dragged her to a vacant lot and raped her.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A jogger grabbed Julie Harmia as she was walking home from a bus stop, shoved his hand into her mouth, dragged her to a vacant lot and raped her.

As he left he said: "If you go to the police, they cannot protect you 24 hours a day, and I will come and I will kill you."

That was Oct. 23, 1980, and she was among more than 40 women who were raped in well-to-do neighborhoods on the city's South Hill from 1978 to 1981. Some victims were as young as 16.

Now, Harmia is about to again confront the man believed to be the so-called South Hill Rapist.

Kevin Coe, the handsome, clean-cut son of a newspaper editor and a socialite mother, was arrested in 1981, but after two trials and numerous appeals, only his conviction in Harmia's case stood up in court.

Not out of jail yet
Coe has completed his sentence of 25 years in prison, but he's not getting out of jail yet.

Starting Monday, he faces a civil trial as the state tries to keep him locked up indefinitely as a violent sexual predator.

"We think he's mentally ill and dangerous," said Todd Bowers of the state attorney general's office.

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. A special facility near Tacoma holds about 300 of them, including Coe, whose sentence was completed in 2006.

Prosecutors will seek to convince a jury that Coe suffers from a mental disorder that prevents him from controlling his sexual behavior.

He refused treatment in prison, and has always maintained his innocence, to the point of refusing to cooperate with the parole board for an early release because that would have required that he admit committing the crimes.

"After the evidence is presented at trial, this community will finally be forced to concede that Mr. Coe is not the 'South Hill Rapist,'" Coe's attorney Tim Trageser said recently.

Never charged in 17 rapes
Getting Coe committed indefinitely will require that Harmia and as well as many of the women Coe is alleged to have raped take the stand and face him. They include 17 women whose rapes matched Coe's methods, but for which he was never charged.

Harmia, 27 when she was attacked, is now a grandmother living in Yakima. The Associated Press usually does not identify victims of rape, but Harmia has spoken publicly before and agreed to be identified for this report.

"He is not a person that can be rehabilitated," she said Wednesday. "He refuses to admit he even did it."

Harmia said she did not want to revisit the horror, but she felt compelled to testify because of the many victims for which Coe was never charged.

"I feel I carry the burden of all the women that didn't get their day in court," Harmia said. "We cannot let this happen again."

It is not clear if Coe will testify. His lawyers say he is suffering from depression, and has become very thin, isn't showering or changing his clothes, and has let his hair and fingernails grow. He has refused antidepressants.

Police suspected Coe of 43 rapes. Some believe the number was at least 53.

Method of attack similar
Expert Robert Keppel, who will testify for the state, has identified numerous "signatures," which he calls "ritual characteristics" in Harmia's rape that were also present in many of the other rapes. They included the attacker removing his own clothes during the assault, ordering the victim not to look at him, and engaging the victim in conversation.

Coe's crimes reached a national audience, especially after his late mother, Ruth, 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.

Coe has long claimed he was the victim of a law-enforcement conspiracy, even though no additional South Hill Rapist attacks occurred after his arrest in 1981.

"I've never committed a crime of any kind in my life," Coe said during a 2006 jailhouse interview with "Dateline NBC." "I'm not a threat to anybody, and I never have been."

Coe was originally charged with six rapes and eventually convicted of four. Appellate courts threw out three of the convictions because police had hypnotized the victims during interrogation.