Tag Archive for rape

Who’s Lying Now?

While Artis Cobb was doing time in Georgia for a drug charge in 1997, he “found Jesus.” His reliance on his Higher Power during interrogations by cold case detectives from Kansas looking into two unsolved killings later became the basis for his unsuccessful attempts to overturn a pair of manslaughter convictions.
 
In 1994, Kasey Blount, the wife of Jade Blount, soldier at nearby Fort Riley, was found dead in her apartment by her husband when he returned from maneuvers. She was naked from the waist down with a baby’s sock stuffed down her throat. She appeared to have been sexually assaulted, and the autopsy revealed that she had been asphyxiated.
 
Making the case even more tragic, the couple’s daughter, Alannah, was found in her crib. She had died of dehydration, “apparently after her dead mother could no longer respond to quench her thirst,” the Kansas Supreme Court wrote.
 
Physical evidence at the crime scene included semen from two men, Keith Jones and Javis Devore, and a fingerprint from James Battle. All three men admitted having sex with Kasey in her apartment while her husband was away, and Jones told authorities to speak to a man named “Scoop,” whom he later identified as Cobb.
 
There was never any physical evidence linking Cobb to the crime scene.
 
Three years passed before Kansas Bureau of Investigation agents in the cold-case squad interviewed Cobb while he was serving time in Georgia. At the beginning of the 8-and-a-half hour interrogation, Cobb acknowledged his Miranda rights and willingly spoke with agents.
 
At first, Cobb denied knowing Kasey or being in Junction City, but he then said he had seen her at the barracks and had been in Junction City.
 
When one of the agents told Cobb that Jones was prepared to testify against him and that Jones’s testimony would “bury him,” Cobb became silent and appeared to be praying. The agent, using an interrogation technique called “minimization,” began to outline a scenario that understated Cobb’s possible role in the homicide, speculating that it was part of a gang initiation.
 
Cobb then told the agents that he participated in an initiation process of a group of soldiers called “the Pimps” who lived at the barracks. He explained that he had to drink a concoction made of grenadine, nitrane, and other alcohol called “blood” and then answer questions. He was then taken by Andrew Jones to Kasey’s apartment. He said Andrew Jones forced Kasey to undress and forced Cobb to have sexual intercourse with her. Afterward, Cobb said, Andrew Jones directed Cobb to hold Kasey’s arms while Andrew Jones held a pillow over her face until she stopped moving. Andrew Jones then told Cobb to wait for him in the car. When Andrew Jones joined Cobb a few minutes later, he said the initiation was complete and, “Now you a pimp, nigger.”
 
Then Cobb drew a diagram of the crime scene, correctly locating furniture placement and the location of Kasey’s body. He also wrote a poem for Kasey’s mother and near the end of the interview drafted a four-page statement that described his activities in the assault and killing.
 
The agents returned to continue the interview a few days later and Cobb declined to speak any further about the crime. He handed the agents a letter, which stated: “After speaking with various family members, I’ve come to a couple of conclusions; One being, I made a very detrimental mistake by taking the actions I took with you two agents . . . I’m referring to my writing the statement, which could very well be ‘self-incriminating.’ Due to the fact that I feel as though I was coerced into writing the statement, I wish to withdraw it in its entirety. Out of extreme fear and lack of understanding, I created a scenario in my mind, in order to satisfy the two (2) agents, and I placed it on paper. It has no meaning nor is any of it true. Please disregard the entire contents of the statement. Anything to be discussed in future situations has to be done in the presence of my attorney. Thanks for your time. Respectfully, Artis T. Cobb.”
 
Cobb then said he wanted to explain the letter. Again, he signed a written waiver of his Miranda rights.
 
Cobb explained that he did not want to withdraw the part of the statement about knowing Kasey; he just wanted to withdraw the part about raping and murdering her. He then looked at photographs of Andrew Jones and Keith Jones, correctly identifying Andrew, but not Keith. Cobb did say that he recognized him as someone he had seen around Junction City.
 
It would take another two years for the cold-case squad to gather enough evidence to charge Cobb with the killings.
 
In July 1999, Cobb was living in Florida when the KBI agents teamed up with investigators from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to continue the probe.
 
After the standard Miranda waiver, the agents asked if he was willing to talk about Kasey. “Yeah, I’ll talk to you about it, you know that.”
 
The FDLE agent then lied to Cobb, telling him there was new technology that had provided Kansas with evidence placing him at the crime scene “hook, line, and sinker.” The Florida agent repeated similar comments throughout the interview. Cobb stated several times that he could not remember being at Kasey’s apartment. After one such statement, the following exchange took place:

Q. Okay, Artis, what I have got here is an arrest warrant from the State of Kansas. It’s charging you with six counts.
 
A. Six counts of what?
 
Q. Six counts.
 
A. No, no. We can talk some more, please. Let’s talk some more. Let me try to remember some of this, I mean.
 
Q. I heard you say, you know, you don’t want to talk no more about this thing, that you wanted a lawyer. Would you like to talk some more about this with us?
 
A. We can talk some more about this. Let’s do.

Cobb eventually admitted to drinking until he was intoxicated with other members of the Pimps, including Andrew Jones. Cobb drove to Kasey’s apartment with Andrew Jones, and he sat downstairs and drank while Andrew Jones went upstairs with Kasey for 5 or 10 minutes.
 
When Andrew Jones and Kasey came downstairs, she looked upset. According to Cobb, Andrew Jones told her that now she was “gonna give my boy some of this,” meaning that she was going to have intercourse with Cobb. When she resisted, Andrew Jones grabbed her and held her down to the floor and told Cobb to have sex with her or he would kill him. Cobb complied.
 
Finally, when asked Cobb how Kasey died, he responded: “Ms. Kasey died with a pillow over her face, a pillow that was held by me, but I never meant to do it.” Cobb denied knowing Alannah was upstairs at the time of her mother’s death.
 
Chandra Scott, a friend of Cobb’s, testified that around the time of the crimes, Cobb went to her home to talk to her. He was upset and said he was seeing a woman married to a military man who had a baby girl. According to Cobb, he and this woman “got into it” and he choked her. Scott and Cobb were smoking marijuana during this conversation. Scott also recalled that she had dropped Cobb off at Kasey’s apartment complex on one occasion so that he could visit his girlfriend.
 
At his trial, an expert witness for Cobb educated jurors about the problem of false confessions.
 
The expert testified that the police in this case used Reid and Associates techniques in interrogating Cobb such as telling him they knew he committed the crime, confronting him with irrefutable evidence of his guilt, suggesting that they wanted to help him, suggesting the gang initiation scenario, appealing to Cobb’s moral and religious sense, using maximization and minimization, leading him to believe that they would meet with the district attorney, and repeatedly asking Cobb to remember what happened and to help himself out. He explained that some of the techniques used by the interrogators in this case have contributed to false confessions.
 
On April 7, 2000, a jury found Cobb guilty of voluntary manslaughter of Kasey Blount and involuntary manslaughter of Alannah Blount. On May 16, 2000, the court sentenced Cobb to 98 months in prison.
 
On appeal, Cobb argued that the trial court had erred in admitting his statements to law enforcement because the statements were coerced and thus involuntary.
 
The argument was unsuccessful at the state appellate court level and in December 2004, the U.S. District Court also rejected his request for a writ of habeas corpus, writing, “we conclude the manner and the duration of the interrogations did not make Cobb’s statements involuntary. He was given several breaks during the August 1997 interrogation, and the July 1999 interrogation lasted only 4 hours. Cobb did not complain that he was physically threatened by or that he had received any unfulfilled promises from the agents. He never requested to communicate with the outside world, and, as the district court noted, he was an adult of average intellect who had been in the United States Army and who had previous experience with the criminal justice system…As for the officers’ fairness, although the agents in this case did misrepresent the strength of the evidence they already possessed, we believe it is unlikely these misrepresentations overbore Cobb’s will under the totality of the circumstances.”
 

Gone, but not Forgotten

See the addendum at the bottom. Spoiler Alert: It answers the question with finality. ~ m.g.
 
It’s been two decades since the State of Virginia executed Roger Coleman for the rape and murder of his sister-in-law, but he’s still the darling of the anti-death penalty faction because they’re convinced he was innocent.
 
Until a few years ago, Virginia had successfully fended off media attempts to pay for DNA testing that might establish once-and-for-all whether or not he had anything to do with sexually assaulting and killing Wanda Faye Thompson McCoy.
 
“DNA testing is without a doubt a very powerful tool, but it is a tool for the living,” said a spokesman for the state Attorney General after a group of newspapers pressed the former Virginia governor to allow the testing. “Roger Coleman was and is guilty of the rape and murder of Wanda McCoy. All the repeated histrionics by various lawyers won’t change that.”
 
Hours before he died in the electric chair, Coleman failed a polygraph exam, but some of his supporters point out that the timing and stakes involved might have rendered the test meaningless.
 
The verdict of 12 of Coleman’s peers had been appealed and argued all the way to the United States Supreme Court. In all, the case was reviewed 12 times in litigation. Overall, close to 20 state and federal judges looked at the evidence and criminal justice process.
 
In typical media oversimplification, the press pointed out the state’s “rush to judgment” despite the fact that it took 11 years for Coleman’s appeals to work their way through the system.
 
The evidence shows that the jury did not wildly jump to conclusions that could not be supported. Indeed, just a brief look at the facts in evidence strongly indicates that Coleman was guilty.
 
Bradley D. McCoy, 21, and his wife, Wanda Fay McCoy, 19, lived outside Grundy, Virginia in a rented house. They had no children. Wanda was not employed; her husband was a parts clerk for United Coal Company, working the second shift from 3:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. On March 10, 1981, at 2:15 p.m., McCoy went to work, leaving Wanda at home alone.
 
(Coleman’s wife was Wanda’s younger sister and the Colemans lived in the home of Coleman’s grandmother, which was a five-minute walk from the McCoy house.)
 
McCoy testified that about 9:00 p.m. he telephoned Wanda “to see if she was okay.”
 
At the end of his shift, McCoy arrived home about 11:15 p.m. Entering his home, he saw that the coffee table had been moved, there were “slight drips of blood on the floor,” and the light and the television were on. Going to the back bedroom, where a light was on, he found his wife lying on her back on the floor. Her hair was pulled over her face, she had a wound in her chest, and there was blood beside her head. Her arms were stretched behind her head and her legs were lying straight out and apart.
 
Dr. Thomas D. McDonald, the medical examiner, made a superficial examination of Wanda, confirmed that she was dead, but did not move her pending the arrival of a State Police special investigating unit. She had a large cut to her neck and two puncture wounds in her chest. Dr. McDonald determined that the cause of death was the “slashing wound to the throat.” The body was still warm, rigor mortis had not set in, and Dr. McDonald estimated that Wanda had died about 10:30 p.m., or within 30 minutes before or after that time.
 
At daybreak, police measured the depth of Slate Creek, located 75 to 100 yards from the McCoy house, at 10 to 12 inches. The creek depth is important because the clothes Coleman wore that night indicate he waded through that particular creek.
 
The pathologist who conducted the autopsy found two foreign hairs in the victim’s genital area. He submitted these samples of her pubic hairs, blood, swabs from her mouth, hands, vagina, and rectum, and her underwear to the state crime lab.
 
Based on his previous history as an ex-con sex offender who served 3 years for an attempted rape, suspicion quickly focused on Coleman.
 
Coleman was a coal miner. The statement he gave to police was exculpatory, purporting to account in detail for his time on the night of the killing. He said he left his home at 8:30 p.m., left a local convenience store at 9:05 p.m., went to work when he learned that his shift at the mine had been terminated, and arrived at 10:50 p.m. at a bathhouse in town where he took a shower and changed his clothes before returning home.
 
Coleman agreed to supply samples of his blood, head hairs, pubic hairs, and saliva. These were taken to the Bureau of Forensic Science.
 
Elmer Gist, Jr., a forensic serologist employed by the Commonwealth of Virginia Bureau of Forensic Science, testified that he made an analysis of the items delivered to him. He said the two apparently foreign hairs found in Wanda’s pubic area were, in fact, not those of the victim but were consistent with pubic hair samples taken from Coleman. Gist concluded that these two hairs came either from Coleman or, by a possible but unlikely coincidence, from some other person of the same race whose hair had the same color, diameter, general configuration, and microscopic characteristics.
 
Coleman was a secretor, one whose “blood type factor” is present “in semen, saliva or other body fluids,” but 80 percent of the population are secretors. Coleman had Type B blood, a rare type possessed by somewhere between 2 and 10 percent of the population. Wanda’s blood was type O, a type which as much as 40 percent to 45 percent of the population have; her husband’s was Type A.
 
From Gist’s examination of the vaginal specimen taken from the victim’s body he found that semen had been deposited in her vagina by a secretor with Type B blood. He also determined that a bloodstain found on Coleman’s blue jeans was made by Type O human blood. Gist found blood on one of Coleman’s knives but not in sufficient quantity to enable him to determine whether it was human or animal blood. According to Gist, Coleman’s blue jeans were wet from the bottom of the legs to a height of about 12 inches. They were dirty and had “blackish stains on the upper legs in particular.” Photographs of the victim depicted a very dark, fine substance on her hands.
 
There was a jailhouse snitch who testified, as well.
 
Roger L. Matney, a convicted felon, testified that when he had been incarcerated in the same cell block with Coleman in the county jail, Coleman had described for him the killing and rape. According to Matney, Coleman drew a diagram of the McCoy house and said he and another man were in the house and after the victim’s husband called her about 9:00 p.m., Coleman’s companion cut her and she began to scream.
 
Coleman told Matney the two men took the victim to the bedroom and both raped her. The knife “was supposed” to have been hidden under Black Watch Bridge. Coleman began to say something about a paper towel when the conversation ended. (Other evidence of the Commonwealth showed that a paper towel was found near the victim ’s body).
 
Elmer T. Miller, a forensic scientist, testifying for the defense, said that from his examination of swabs received from Dr. Oxley he determined that the very dark, fine substance found on the victim’s hands was soil and particles of plant material, not coal dust.
 
Shortly before 11:00 p.m. on March 18, 1982, the jury found Coleman guilty of capital murder.
 
Capital trials are bifurcated, or split into two phases: Guilt and penalty. In the penalty phase the jury that convicted the defendant hears evidence from both the prosecution and defense in support of their preferred punishment. The past acts and character of a defendant are always considered before a jury can hand up its sentencing recommendation.
 
One of the witnesses for the prosecution was the woman who Coleman tried to rape.
 
Brenda R., 36, testified as a witness for the Commonwealth during the penalty phase. She described an attempted rape committed by Coleman on April 7, 1977.
 
Coleman, whom she had never seen before, was admitted to the house when he asked for a drink of water. After some conversation, Coleman pulled a gun and forced her to tape her daughter’s hands and feet and place her in a child’s rocking chair. Coleman then walked Mrs. R. at gunpoint upstairs to the bedroom where he ordered her to undress. Seizing an opportunity to escape when Coleman went for his gun, Mrs. R. ran downstairs, picked up her daughter, and fled from the house and screamed for help. As neighbors came to the rescue, Coleman ran away. The entire episode lasted approximately ten minutes, according to Mrs. R. and throughout this time Coleman “never really raised his voice,” which she described as “[v]ery cold.” She recalled, “It was just like, do it or die.”
 
For that crime, he was sentenced to serve three years in the State penitentiary.
 
Coleman’s death penalty appeals in state court went nowhere, and his federal appeals were just as unsuccessful.
 
Under Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, the Supreme Court put strict new limits on the ability of state inmates to present habeas corpus petitions in federal court.
 
Coleman’s case itself helped Rehnquist in his quest to speed the process. On a 6-3 vote in the case of Coleman vs. Thompson, the high court said that if a defense lawyer errs in a state court — in this instance, by filing a late appeal — the inmate may not get a further hearing in the federal courts.
 
Because of that ruling, federal judges were under no obligation to grant Coleman a hearing on the “newly revealed evidence.”
 
The so-called new evidence was a DNA test that put Coleman in a group of less than 0.2 percent population that could have committed the crime — based on sheer numbers that puts him in a large group. The defense claimed the test was misinterpreted.
 
However, a week before Coleman’s execution, U.S. District Judge Glen W. Williams said that the new evidence did not convince him that Coleman was not guilty.
 
Shortly before he was executed, Time magazine put him on its cover and the Washington Post argued that he would be executed because he was “too poor to hire a good lawyer.”
 
Was Coleman innocent? A dozen of his peers believed beyond a reasonable doubt that he was not. The justice system reviewed his conviction over and over and found that his arrest, trial, conviction, and sentence were within the bounds of the U.S. Constitution.
 
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with opposing the death penalty and wanting to change the law. The problem is relying on half-truths and mistaken assumptions to point out the unfairness of the system. Anti-capital punishment forces could do a lot better than Roger Coleman if they need a poster child.
 

Update


Virginia eventually did acquiesce to testing Coleman’s DNA. It turned out that it matched the DNA of the person who sexually assaulted Wanda McCoy.