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Jill COIT

 
 
 
 
 

 

 

 

 


Born: Jill Lonita Billiot
 
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Parricide
Number of victims: 1 +
Date of murder: October 22, 1993
Date of arrest: December 23, 1993
Date of birth: June 11, 1943
Victim profile: Gerald Boggs, 52 (her ex-husband)
Method of murder: Shooting (.22 caliber pistol)
Location: Steamboat Springs, Colorado, USA
Status: Sentenced to life in prison on May 24, 1995
 
 

 
 
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On October 22, 1993, 52-year-old Gerald Boggs was found murdered in his Steamboat Springs, Colorado home. Soon police had a solid suspect: Boggs’ ex-wife, Jill Coit.

The two had been married a mere 7 days before Boggs got the marriage annulled due to the fact that Coit was still married to someone else… and Coit was in the process of suing Boggs for the deed to a bed and breakfast they co-owned when he was murdered.

Even though Coit produced an alibi, corroborated by a boyfriend, police soon discovered that she was not the innocent she painted herself to be.

Coit had been married ten times, sometimes committing bigamy, and a few of her former husbands had died under mysterious circumstances.


Where Are They Now: Jill Lonita Billiot (Coit)

By Kim Cantrell - Truecrimebooksreview.com

December 16, 2009

Remember Jill Lonita Billiot from Clifford Linedecker’s 1995 book Poisoned Vows?

Best known for marrying men because she slept with them -(“I sleep with them, I marry them, okay? I could just sleep with them.”) and the murder of at least one of them, she racked up nine husbands before the state of Colorado stepped in; arresting Billiot, along with her most recent love interest Michael Backus, for the murder of husband number 8:  Gerald Boggs.

On March 17, 1995, Billiot and Backus were convicted of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the Hot Sulphur Springs, Colorado District Court.

In May 1998, Billiot got the bright idea to post an online personals ad reading, “Want U.S. Citizenship?  Marry an inmate.”  The United States Department of Immigration shut the site down before Billiot could find any takers.

In April 2006, Jill filed a civil suit against multiple defendants – most being correctional officers – claiming sexual abuse and other human rights violations.   The latest information available  – dated June 2008 – shows that this case has yet to be heard.

Now being 65 years old and a true lifer of the Colorado Department of Corrections (all of her appeals have been denied) – her first eligible date for parole is March 16, 3004 – I feel it’s a sure bet to say that men everywhere are safe from this serial-marrying femme fatale.

(Jill’s co-defendant Michael Bakus’ latest appeal was denied in October 2009.  He also remains a resident of the Colorado Department of Corrections, where his first eligible parole date is June 2, 3004.)


Woman Guilty Of Murdering Husband No. 9

The New York Times

March 19, 1995

A woman whose 11 marriages earned her the nickname the Black Widow was convicted on Friday of torturing and killing her ninth husband.

The woman, Jill Coit, and her boyfriend, Michael Backus, were convicted of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit first-degree murder in the shooting death of Gerald Boggs, a hardware store owner.

Mr. Boggs, 52, was found dead at his home in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in October 1993. The prosecutors said he was beaten, shocked with a stun gun and shot with a .22-caliber pistol.

Ms. Coit, 51, has been married 11 times to 9 men. Her marriage to Mr. Boggs was annulled when he learned that she was still married to her eighth husband. Mr. Boggs hired a private investigator when he began to suspect that she was lying about how many times she had been married.

"She picked the wrong town, she picked the wrong man, and she picked the wrong family," Doug Boggs, the victim's older brother, said after the verdict.

Ms. Coit's husbands included the lawyer who helped her avoid questioning in the 1972 shooting death of her third husband, Clark Coit. She and the lawyer were married and divorced twice.

She was divorced from all of her other husbands, except for an elderly man who died of natural causes. Testimony about her previous marriages was not allowed during her trial.

During closing arguments, the prosecutors said Ms. Coit had manipulated Gerald Boggs, including saying that she was pregnant when she was not. They said she killed him when he threatened to expose her in a lawsuit accusing her of fraud and emotional distress.

Defense lawyers said in closing arguments that no physical evidence linked either suspect to the scene of the crime. Ms. Coit and Mr. Backus, who is 49, said they were camping when Mr. Boggs was killed.

Ms. Coit is scheduled for sentencing on May 1, and Mr. Backus is to be sentenced on May 23. Both face life in prison.


After 10 Marriages, Woman Is Jailed on Murder Charges

Violence: Jill Coit and a boyfriend are being held in death of husband No. 9. No. 3 also met an untimely end.

By Robert Weller - Los Angeles Times

December 26, 1993

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS, Colo. — Jill Coit is a marrying woman. Ten times she has taken the plunge.

But now she and a boyfriend are in jail, charged with murdering husband No. 9, who was shot in October.

"If you were to meet her and talk to her, you'd think she's just the greatest person you ever met," one ex-husband, Carl Steely, said of Coit. "Why would all these people marry her if she weren't that way?"

Coit, 50, who is still married to husband No. 10, is charged in the slaying of Gerry Boggs, 52. She and telephone repairman Michael Backus, 48, are being held on $5-million bond on first-degree murder charges.

Neither defendant looked at the other during a recent court appearance, when they were ordered to appear Jan. 31 for a preliminary hearing.

Coit, a stocky woman with heavy eyebrows and curly hair and dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit, hardly appeared the seductress and former model who left a trail of husbands in five states and managed to persuade a wealthy, elderly Californian to adopt her just before he died.

The arrest affidavit naming Coit lists 16 names she has used.

Her husbands have included the lawyer who helped her avoid questioning in the shooting death of her third husband, Clark Coit, whose name she continues to use. Coit, like Boggs, was shot by someone who entered his home through an unlocked back door, in 1972.

Coit checked herself into a psychiatric hospital after Coit's killing and police were never able to question her.

She married and divorced lawyer Louis DiRosa twice, making him husbands Nos. 5 and 6. In between Coit and DiRosa, she married Marine Maj. Donald Brodie in California.

While still DiRosa's wife, Coit married husbands Nos. 7 and 8: Eldon Metzger, an Indiana auctioneer, and Steely, a teacher in Indiana, according to police.

"I'm thankful to be alive," Steely said.

Private investigator Stan Lewis, retained by Boggs to look into Coit's past, said she "is cut from the same cloth as 'The Black Widow.' " The reference is to a 1987 thriller about a young woman whose wealthy husbands die.

Police say Coit and Backus shot and killed Boggs several days before a trial of a lawsuit charging bigamy and extortion. Boggs had his 1990 marriage to Coit annulled after Lewis found she was still married to Steely when she married Boggs. She then married husband No. 10, Roy Carroll, 68, in Houston.

Coit sued Boggs when he refused to release the lien he held on Coit's bed-and-breakfast lodge in this ski resort. Workers at the bed-and-breakfast, valued at $1 million and run by Coit's son, Seth, refused to say where Seth was or answer any questions.

Randall Klauzer, Coit's lawyer, said he couldn't comment on the case because of a court-imposed gag order.

The arrest affidavit quotes witnesses as saying that both defendants tried to talk them into killing Boggs.

Troy Giffon, who worked with Backus, said Backus offered him $7,500 to kill Boggs. After Boggs' death, Giffon reminded Backus of his offer and Backus said, "I was hoping you would forget that," and, "This is the only thing that could hang me," the arrest warrant says.

Giffon said Backus, a fellow veteran, put his hand on his shoulder and said, "Vietnam buddies don't rat off their buddies."

The warrant says Coit traveled with Backus to Iowa when he was assigned to repair telephone lines damaged by last summer's floods. She began counseling flood victims, saying she was a psychologist.

The warrant quotes an Iowa woman as saying Coit tried to persuade her to kill Boggs, claiming he was a rapist and sexual deviant.

Several witnesses are quoted as saying they saw the defendants wearing disguises near Boggs' home the day he was killed and also passing by his funeral. Coit was said to be wearing a fake black mustache and driving a red sports car.

Police allege Coit fled to Mexico after Boggs' killing and wrote her son telling him to sell everything. She either ran out of money or wanted to pick up some of her belongings and was arrested when she returned to Greeley, where Backus worked, police said.


Bigamist and Murderess: The Story of Jill Lonita Billiot Ihnen Moore Coit Brodie Dirosa Metzger Steely Boggs Carroll

By Kim Cantrell

No one is really certain when Jill Lonita Billiot was born. She was prone to lie so frequently about the date and her age that it makes it difficult to know for sure; but most are certain that she was born on June the 11th of 1943 or 1944.

Jill experienced a normal American childhood. Her father, Henry Albert Billiot, was a tugboat captain; her mother, Juanita Engelman Billiot, a northern Indiana native, served as a full time mother to Jill and her brother Marc Billiot.

Jill may not have been rich, but she had everything she needed and a lot of what she wanted. There was nothing that could have predicted that the little brown-eyed girl who freely explored the bayous and canals of The Big Easy would become most famous for the trail of bigamy and blood splatter she left across the nation.

Beginnings of a Serial Wife

During her sophomore year of high school, Jill decided to move to her maternal grandparents home in North Manchester, Indiana. Pretty and smart, Jill easily fit in; the boys, especially, were drawn to her Louisianian accent and the stories she told about life in the bayous.

One of the young boys enamored with Jill was Larry Eugene Ihnen, and Jill was quite smitten with him too. So much was she in love with Larry, Jill dropped out of high school and the two eloped on July 24, 1961. Larry was eighteen; Jill was seventeen.

It didn't take long however for this marriage to run it's course. By March 1962, Larry had moved back home with his mother. Jill filed for divorce and obtained a restraining order prohibiting him from contacting or coming near her.

Just a few weeks shy of what would have been the couples' first anniversary, the divorce was finalized. In 1962, it mattered to whom the divorce was granted; and, in this case, it was granted to Larry on his grounds of cruel and inhumane treatment.

Jill kept working at the factory, but soon realized she didn't want to keep living the drudgery day in and day out, earning the low wages of a high school drop out.

No, Jill was now eighteen years old and she was free. She was ready to start living.

And murdering.

Husbands Number 2 & 3: Steven and Clark

Jill had returned to The Big Easy, shunning off the factory and the midwestern life she had lived in Indiana. The first thing she did upon her return was to get her high school diploma. Then she promptly enrolled at Northwestern State University of Louisiana in Natchitoches, where she would meet husband number 2: Steven Moore.

What started out as casual dating quickly turned into a full-blown love affair, and on May 5, 1964, Steven and Jill were wed in Mississippi.

Just as with her first marriage, before Steven and Jill could reach their first anniversary there was already trouble brewing. The birth of a baby boy, Steven Seth Moore, on March 28, 1965, couldn't do much to soothe the marital ailments and soon enough Jill and Steven were separated.

Enter William Clark Coit, Jr., a wealthy gas pipeline worker who was never any place long enough to put down roots. Clark, as he was called, was enjoying a drink in of the French Quarter's bars the Saturday night he first met Jill Lonita Moore.

It only took one evening for Clark to fall head over heels for the beautiful, young mother. For a while Clark, 35, had thought more and more about giving up his rambling job and settling in with a wife and kids. Jill seemed to be the answer to a prayer.

There was just one problem, she was already someone else's wife. Steven and Jill were only separated, not divorced. To Jill, it wasn't much of an issue. On August 27, 1965, she filed for divorce and moved into Clark's French Quarter apartment.

Thanksgiving of the same year, Jill went to meet Clark's family in Ohio; leaving her infant son behind in Louisiana. Unaware of her first divorce, pending divorce, and son, the Coit family welcomed her with open arms. And it's a good thing they did, because two months after the visit, Clark called home to tell his family that he and Jill had gotten married on January 29, 1966, in Orange County, Texas.

Clark nor his family knew that her divorce from Steven wasn't yet complete and wouldn't be so until March 1966. Nor could they have known that Clark's days as Jill's husband were numbered.

A divorce wasn't the way Jill planned to get out of a marriage this time, however.

Widowed at 28

Just shy of her second divorce's first anniversary and only slightly beyond 9 months into her third marriage, Jill gave birth to a second son she named William Clark Coit III. Clark had also adopted Jill's oldest son, whose name was changed from Steven Seth Moore to Johnathan Seth Coit. And before long, Clark's job had relocated the family to Orange, Texas, on the Gulf of Mexico.

Maybe it was because he still frequently traveled and, in doing so, gave Jill quite a bit of freedom or the luxuries afforded to her as the wife of a wealthy man kept her around, who really knows; but what is certain is Jill would continue to use his surname long, long after he was gone and after many, many more marriages.

During her marriage to Clark, Jill never stopped her running around with men. By 1972, the marriage was, for all intents and purposes, over. Jill had begun to brag about her sexual escapades to her husband and flaunted them openly. A humiliated and brokenhearted Clark accused Jill of having married him for his money.

On March 8, 1972, Jill filed for divorce. Following the service of the divorce papers, Clark withdrew a hefty sum of money from his bank accounts and jokingly told friends it was "a little bit of money Jill can't get her hands on."

Oh, how wrong he was. When his body was discovered on the morning of March 29, 1972, the money was nowhere to be found. Coincidentally, Jill is the one to discover her husband's death after he failed to show-up at work that morning.

Homicide detectives knew that Jill was responsible for Clark's death, but they could never gain enough evidence to present it to a grand jury. But when they felt ready to give it a shot, Jill had taken off. They'd later find her in New Orleans with an attorney on retainer to fight any possible extradition. And to further insure her stay in NOLA, she committed herself to an mental facility with claims of "acute hysteria and emotional distress."

The homicide of Clark Coit went cold. And the new widow inherited all of his estate.

If You Can't Marry 'Em...

In August 1973, Jill popped up in California, where she had met and befriended a wealthy retiree in his 1990s. Exactly how Jill convinced the old man Bruce Johansen to "adopt" her is unknown, but by the following year he was dead and Jill received a healthy portion of his estate.

Even today investigators attribute age to the cause of death and do no suspect foul play. Although, they admit, the "adoption" is very fishy.

No Time to Grieve for Daddy, Welcome Husband Number 4

While coaxing sugar daddy Johansen to adopt her, Jill had met and married U.S. Marine Corp Major Donald Charles Brodie. Unlike previous husbands, Major Brodie didn't allow his new bride to manage the household funds and this became a bitter point of contention between them.

After they separated, Jill come up with a scam to get money out of her soon to be ex. She claimed to have delivered a son on October 18, 1974, and named him Thadeus John Brodie. But the Major was smarter than the other men in Jill's past and didn't so easily believe this story; not even when Jill presented him with an infant.

Later it was learned that Jill had paid people to "borrow" their baby for a few hours and these were the infants she had used to try to squeeze child support of husband number four. Fortunately, it didn't work.

But it wouldn't be the last time Jill used such a scheme to get her hands on money.

Husbands 5 & 6, then back to 5...Maybe?

When Jill fled Texas following Clark's death, the attorney she hired to fight any extradition attempts was Louis A. DiRosa of New Orleans. He was also the attorney who handled Jill's adoption by Johanesen and the claim to his estate.

Jill and Louis married on October 11, 1976, in Wilkinson County, Mississippi. It was a volitale marriage and (surprise, surprise) didn't last till the water got hot.

During one of their numerous separations, Jill met and married Indiana auctioneer Eldon Duane Metzger on March 27, 1978 in Lima, Ohio. Still married to the legal eagle, Jill travels to Haiti to file and is granted a divorce from Louis on November 4, 1978. - a divorce not recognized by the United States; so Jill is a bigamist for a second time.

Somewhere amongst the duplicate life, the marriage between Jill and Eldon tumbles like house of cards built on an earthquake fault line.

Some sources say that Jill and Louis reconciled during this time, actually going through a second (albeit unnecessary) civil ceremony, while others dispute such a claim. Whether they did or didn't is irrelevant, I suppose, since the couple obtained a legal divorce on July 26, 1985.

Jill is said to have obtained a legal divorce from Eldon, however no records have ever been located to confirm it.

Lucky Number 7?

Jill wasn't divorced from Louis yet when she marries Carl V. Steely at teacher at Culver Academy in Culver, Indiana, on January 6, 1983. This invalid marriage would last for nine years, although they only lived together as man and wife for seven of those years.

During this union, which would be the longest one of them all, Jill frequently told Carl that husband five (DiRosa) was her mentor in using and circumventing laws to her advantage.

After Jill's arrest, many years later, Carl would claim to feel lucky to be alive, saying that on at least two occasions he suspected his wife had tried to kill him; once by poisoning his coffee and the second time by having a man try to run him over while he was riding his bike. (Jill disputed these claims, for what the words of a murderous bigamist is worth)

Toward the end of the marriage, Carl and Jill vacationed in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. They fell in love with the area and decided it was where they wished to retire. Jill wanted to purchase the quaint Oak Street Bed and Breakfast, and Carl agreed. Jill was to stay on after the purchase, and plans were made for Carl to join her after school dismissed for the summer.

Jill did indeed purchase the bed and breakfast, but instead of listing Carl on the deed Jill put only her and her oldest son, Seth's, name on it. Carl wouldn't know this until later, however, and came to Steamboat Springs as planned and began working on renovations.

She was only biding her time with Carl and using his handyman skills though, because Jill had already began working on husband number eight.

Enter Husband Number 8

Gerald Boggs, or Gerry as friends and family addressed him, was one of the most eligible (and wealthy) bachelors in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. A graduate of the University of Colorado and a Vietnam Veteran, he owned a mom-and-pop hardware store. Outside of work, Gerry enjoyed scuba diving, underwater photography, and flying - taking lessons in anything he viewed as improving himself.

When Jill came to town, it may have taken a little more effort on her part but before long she had sucked the life-long bachelor Gerry into her web. When he married the 41-year-old Jill on April 4, 1991, he had no idea she was still married to Carl.

Soon after they were married, Jill announced she was pregnant. Gerry, who had no way of knowing Jill had had a hysterectomy a few year prior, was ecstatic. Together he and Jill shopped for baby clothing and accessories while preparing a nursery.

As Jill's due date approached, she insisted she wanted to have the baby at home; home being Louisiana. And away she went. Returning a few weeks later, she had a heartbreaking story to tell: the baby, whom she'd named Lara, was born alive but had died shortly after her birth.

Too bad Jill had married a smart man. While many in town felt sympathy for the pretty lady, Gerry didn't believe a single word. Doing some good old fashioned investigating, Gerry learned his "wife" was actually married to someone else. As soon as he discovered he'd married a married woman, Gerry immediately sought an annulment that was granted on December 3, 1991. Her marriage to Carl having been discovered, Jill filed for divorce from Carl and it was finalized on December 23, 1991.

Gerry Boggs may have loved Jill, but he was done with the two-timing woman. By the time the annulment from Gerry and the divorce from Carl were complete, Jill was already "getting busy" with telephone line repairmen Michael Backus.

While Jill was good with replacing the men in her life, she wasn't so good at letting go of their money. She would fight Gerry to the death for money she believed was rightfully hers.

Husband Number 9 (And Possibly Number 10?)

Word had gotten around Steamboat Springs that the sexy little newcomer was a serial wife and that the baby scam she pulled on Gerry wasn't her first. So Jill got the heck out of Dodge.

On February 7, 1992, Jill turned up like a bad penny in Las Vegas, Nevada, where she married Roy Carroll, a retired U.S. Navy Petty Officer. The couple returned to Carroll's Houston, Texas, home to begin their lives as husband and wife.

By the end of the year, however, Jill and Carroll had split and rumors were rampant that Jill had married Backus, the beau back in Steamboat Springs, but there's no evidence of a marriage or divorce between the two - although lack of latter means little when married to Jill. Married or not, Jill did, however, use Backus' last name in several documents that were later recovered.

There isn't much said (other than the rumors of another bigamous marriage) about the relationship between Jill and Backus until October 1993.

In October 1993, the pair would become the talk of the town. And the prime suspects in the murder of Gerry Boggs.

Multiple Marriages, Multiple Murders

Gerry Boggs was not only known as a most eligible bachelor, he was also known as a creature of habit. He had a strict routine that he stuck to every single day: open the store at 10 a.m., walk to "The Shack," a diner just two doors down from his business, where he had the same breakfast of eggs, toast and hashbrowns every morning. Gerry always skipped lunch, but each evening he would visit a local restaurant where he ordered his preferred item from their menu; each place offered a different favorite but once he discovered what it was, he never waivered in his choice.

The folks of Steamboat Springs knew what Gerry was doing, when it he was doing it, and how he was doing it. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

When Gerry didn't appear to open the hardware store on the morning of October 22, 1993, everyone knew something was wrong. Very, very wrong. Doug Boggs went rushing to his brother's home, and there he discovered a ghastly scene: Gerry lay dead, having been shot and beaten. Investigators later determined that Gerry had been stunned with a stun gun, shot with a .22 caliber gun, and beaten with a shovel.

Learning that Jill and Gerry were only a week away from a hearing in their civil case, and discovering that the telephone answering machine tape on which Gerry had recorded threats made by Jill toward him was missing, police quickly honed in the serial bride and her repairman lover.

Jill and Backus claimed that at the time Gerry was murdered, they were camping in Kelly Flats in the Poudre Canyon, just west of Fort Collins, Colorado. She also told detectives that Gerry was a closeted homosexual and they should check into a mysterious gay lover.

Investigators were suspicious of the couples' story (and the accusations of homosexuality weren't even considered), but before police could arrest them, Jill had skipped out of the country to Mexico City; from there, with the help of the United States Vice Consulate, she signed over Power of Attorney to her son Seth.

It would seem that Jill Lonita Billiot Ihnen Moore Coit Brodie Dirosa Metzger Steely Boggs Carroll had gotten away with murder...again.

Busted!

No matter how men she married or how much money of theirs she took, Jill would always be a bad decision maker; especially when it came to managing money. Soon Jill ran out of money in Mexico and returned to Colorado.

While she was away, however, police had continued to work the Boggs' homicide case and they had learned some interesting things, such as, Jill had approached a couple of people asking them to kill Gerry because he was molesting her (non-existant) daughter from a previous marriage. Bauckus had also offered a friend and co-worker as much as $7,500 to murder Gerry because he made Jill have sex with other men while he watched. Other employees where Backus worked remembered him showing up with new boots shortly after the murder.

But the biggest break, however, would come from Jill's own son, Seth. He had come to the conclusion that his mother had killed his adopted-dad, Clark, almost 20 years before and finally decided to speak up. He told investigators that his mother had told him she planned to kill Gerry and, on the night in question, she had called him and said, "Hey, baby. It's over and it's messy."

On December 23, 1993, Jill and Backus were arrested and held on a $5 million bond.

Jill Billiott of New Orleans, Louisiana, had married over and over and over again. But the wicked woman had married the wrong man. Gerry Boggs was determined to stop her, even if it meant doing it from the grave.

Til Death She Does Part

Following a lengthy trial (how could it not be with such a history?), on March 17, 1995, Jill and Backus are convicted of the first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder of Gerry Boggs. They were sentenced to life in prison without chance for parole. A $1 million fine was levied against each defendant so that they may never profit from their crimes with book or movie deals.

Life in prison couldn't keep Jill from praying on men, however. In May 1998, Jill recruited a friend to place a personals ad online for her. Upon discovery, the Colorado Department of Corrections promptly had it removed. In December 1998, Jill tried again by placing an internet personals ad that read, "Want U.S. Citizenship? Marry an inmate" on a the Cyber Inmates website. The U.S. Department of Naturalization and Immigration shut down the website.

On October 22, 2002, Jill appealed to the people of Colorado with an online editorial. She called for an investigation into abuse and human rights violations against her that occurred while incarcerated. Jill claimed that she had been denied use of her therapeutic braces for her back and both hands in which she suffers arthritis. She also alleged that she was sexually abused and had her finger broken by a guard.

On April 7, 2006, Jill filed a suit against the Colorado Department of Corrections and several correctional offices claiming she had been sexually assaulted and denied basic human rights - blah, blah, blah, blah. This (obvious) attempt at financial gain on the backs of others went absolutely no where, except to get Jill a verbal slap down by United States District Court for Colorado.

As a result of all her "legal wranglings," Jill was moved to an out-of-state prison under an alias. However, the rumors claim she is at the medium security correctional facility in Omaha, Nebraska. Jill's Court filings list her as incarcerated in Oklahoma and Homestead, Florida - so apparently even Jill isn't sure where she is.

In 2006, all of Jill's appeals opportunities have been exhausted. Yet, somehow, I don't think it's last we've heard of her. Do you?

KimCantrell.hubpages.com


Colorado Court of Appeals

People v. Coit

The PEOPLE of the State of Colorado, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
Jill COIT, Defendant-Appellant.

No. 95CA1145.

November 28, 1997

Gale A. Norton, Attorney General, Martha Phillips Allbright, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Richard A. Westfall, Solicitor General, John J. Krause, Assistant Attorney General, Denver, for Plaintiff-Appellee.Joseph Saint-Veltri, Denver, Steven Janiszewski, Arvada, for Defendant-Appellant.

Defendant, Jill Coit, appeals the judgment of conviction entered upon jury verdicts finding her guilty of first degree murder and conspiracy to commit first degree murder.   We affirm.

Defendant was embroiled in a bitter civil suit against her ex-husband, who was the victim in this case.   The lawsuit arose over the victim's claimed interest in a bed and breakfast in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, which defendant owned with a son by a previous marriage.   Defendant apparently had given the victim a fraudulent deed of trust encumbering the property in order to avoid execution of a judgment obtained in a divorce proceeding by one of her former husbands.

After defendant filed the civil action against the victim seeking a release of the deed of trust, the victim counterclaimed for intentional infliction of emotional distress and outrageous conduct.   The counterclaim alleged, among other things, that defendant had falsely asserted she had given birth to a child fathered by the victim.

The victim's murder occurred in Steamboat Springs one week before the civil trial was to begin.   Approximately one month later, defendant was arrested and charged with first degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder along with a co-defendant with whom she had a personal relationship.   The two cases were joined and, following the filing of both defendants' motions for change of venue, the place of trial was changed from Routt County to Grand County.   A six-week trial resulted in the convictions here at issue.

I.

Defendant first contends the trial court erred in only partially granting her motion for a change of venue and in moving the trial to Grand County rather than to a different judicial district.   We are not persuaded.

A motion for a change of venue is committed to the sound discretion of the trial court, and absent a clear abuse of that discretion, its decision will not be disturbed.   See People v. Simmons, 183 Colo. 253, 516 P.2d 117 (1973);  People v. Moore, 902 P.2d 366 (Colo.App.1994), aff'd, 925 P.2d 264 (Colo.1996);  § 16-6-102(2), C.R.S.1997.

In support of her initial motion, defendant presented an expert witness who testified about a public opinion survey taken in the Fourteenth Judicial District.   According to the expert, unfavorable responses in excess of 40% signified that a fair and impartial jury could not be seated within the judicial district.   Over 40% of the respondents had indicated their belief that defendant was either guilty or probably guilty of murder.

The survey did not distinguish among the individual counties comprising the judicial district but was weighted by population.   It thus sampled more respondents from Routt County, the most populous county in the district and the county in which the murder had occurred.   Based on this evidence, the trial court granted the defendant's motion in part by transferring the trial from Routt County to Grand County.

Defendant then filed a motion for re-hearing, attaching an affidavit from her expert which contained survey results specific to Grand County.   However, the responses unfavorable to defendant in this survey were less than 40%, and we perceive no abuse of discretion in the trial court's determination that defendant could receive a fair trial in Grand County.

II.

Defendant next contends the trial court erred in denying her motion to suppress evidence seized at Lowry Air Force Base (Lowry).   We disagree.

A.

Because one of defendant's ex-husbands had been in the military, she was allowed to use civilian living quarters located at Lowry.   A state court judge had issued a search warrant for these premises and for a vehicle also located on-base.   Defendant asserts that execution of the state court's warrant was invalid because, at that time, Lowry was a military reservation under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States.   See United States Fidelity & Guaranty Co. v. District Court, 143 Colo. 434, 353 P.2d 1093 (1960).   We are not persuaded.

The record surrounding the warrant was not extensive.   However, it appears that the state warrant was presented to Lowry's base commander who then issued a military authorization to search the same premises.   Seemingly, both military and civilian law enforcement personnel conducted the search and seized certain items admitted in the criminal trial.

As defendant alleged in the trial court:

(1) [O]n or about December 2, 1993, personnel of the United States Air Force searched the [defendant's] room and vehicle at Lowry Air Force Base pursuant to an Authority to Search and Seize;  and

(2) [T]he Authority to Search and Seize was signed by [the base commander].

Defendant did not allege that probable cause was lacking either for the state warrant or for the base commander's authorization.

A military base commander is competent to issue authorizations to search and seize for persons and property situated in places under the commander's control.  United States v. Banks, 539 F.2d 14 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 1024, 97 S.Ct. 644, 50 L.Ed.2d 626 (1976);  Wallis v. O'Kier, 491 F.2d 1323 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 901, 95 S.Ct. 185, 42 L.Ed.2d 147 (1974) (military base commander is neutral and detached magistrate for determining probable cause and may issue search warrant for persons or property, including civilian property, situated in place under commander's control).

In State v. Long, 37 N.C.App. 662, 246 S.E.2d 846, appeal dismissed, review denied, 295 N.C. 736, 248 S.E.2d 866 (1978), a search and seizure was upheld under analogous circumstances.   There, as here, a base commander issued an “Authority to Search and Seize” directing military officers to search an on-base home occupied by both military and civilian personnel.   And there, as here, following execution of a search by military and civilian law enforcement officers, the evidence seized was admitted in defendant's civilian criminal prosecution.   See also Eggleston v. Department of Revenue, 895 P.2d 1169 (Colo.App.1995) (upholding sobriety test administered by military officer to civilian while driving on Air Force Academy grounds).

Similarly, we reject defendant's contention that the evidence seized at Lowry should have been suppressed.

B.

We also reject defendant's contention that the evidence seized at Lowry should have been suppressed because the search and seizure violated the Posse Comitatus Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1385 (1994) (PCA).

The PCA was passed shortly after the end of the Reconstruction Era and was designed to “put an end to the use of federal troops to police state elections in the ex-Confederate states where the civil power had been reestablished.”   Chandler v. United States, 171 F.2d 921, 936 (1st Cir.1948), cert. denied 336 U.S. 918, 69 S.Ct. 640, 93 L.Ed. 1081, rehearing denied, 336 U.S. 947, 69 S.Ct. 809, 93 L.Ed. 1103 (1949).   See also State v. Pattioay, 78 Hawai‘i 455, 896 P.2d 911 (1995).

However, even if we assume the search and seizure violated the PCA, suppression of the evidence was not required.   See Hayes v. Hawes, 921 F.2d 100 (7th Cir.1990);  United States v. Wolffs, 594 F.2d 77 (5th Cir.1979);  United States v. Hartley, 486 F.Supp. 1348 (M.D.Fla.1980), aff'd, 678 F.2d 961 (11th Cir.1982);  Taylor v. State, 645 P.2d 522 (Okla.Crim.App.1982);  State v. Valdobinos, 122 Wash.2d 270, 858 P.2d 199 (1993).

Contrary to defendant's suggestion, People v. Tyler, 854 P.2d 1366 (Colo.App.1993), rev'd on other grounds, 874 P.2d 1037 (Colo.1994), does not require a different result.

In Tyler, defendant was convicted of the possession, distribution, and sale of a controlled substance.   She moved to suppress evidence of a drug sale she had made in her house, located off-base, to an undercover agent of the United States Army Criminal Investigation Division.   A division of this court noted that violations of the PCA do not automatically trigger an exclusionary rule, but that no justification had been shown for the military's participation in an undercover drug investigation of a civilian in her off-base activities.   The panel thus concluded that the evidence should have been suppressed.

In contrast, here, other than the claimed violation of the PCA, no reasons were presented which justified exclusion of the evidence.   Accordingly, the trial court did not err in denying defendant's motion to suppress.

III.

Defendant next contends the trial court erred in not suppressing her post-arrest, in-custody statement to law enforcement officers.   She claims the statement was made without a proper advisement or waiver of her rights under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966).   We disagree.

A waiver of Miranda rights must be knowingly, intelligently, and voluntarily made, and unless and until such warnings and waiver are demonstrated, any statement made by the suspect is inadmissible at trial.  People v. Trujillo, 785 P.2d 1290 (Colo.1990).   Whether a waiver is voluntary, knowing, and intelligent requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances surrounding the custodial interrogation.  People v. Jiminez, 863 P.2d 981 (Colo.1993).

Here, defendant was interviewed shortly after her arrest and while in jail.   After an evidentiary hearing in which one of the interviewing detectives testified and the taped interview was played, the trial court found that:  (1) defendant had invited the interview;  (2) there was no evidence of coercion by the officers;  (3) although defendant had interrupted the officers numerous times during the Miranda advisement, she was nevertheless fully advised of her rights and understood them;  and (4) she talked willingly to the officers.

Taking into account the totality of the circumstances, the trial court found that her statement was voluntary and admissible.   Because the court applied the proper legal standard and there is record support for its findings, its ruling must be upheld.  People v. Jiminez, supra.

IV.

Defendant next contends the trial court abused its discretion in admitting evidence regarding her civil lawsuit with the victim, and also in admitting other facts surrounding their relationship as evidence of defendant's motive and malice.   We disagree.

The prosecution maintained that this evidence would have been proffered in the civil trial between defendant and the victim, but for the victim's death the week before that trial was to begin.   The evidence, which concerned such matters as defendant's allegedly bigamous marriage, her false claims of pregnancies, and other false and fraudulent activities on her part, admittedly portrayed defendant as an evil, conniving, and manipulative person.   However, it supported the prosecution's theory that defendant murdered the victim to prevent exposure of this evidence in the civil trial and thus established a motive for the killing.

A trial court has substantial discretion in deciding questions concerning the admissibility of evidence and the determination of its relevancy, probative value, and prejudicial impact.  People v. Moya, 899 P.2d 212 (Colo.App.1994).   Absent an abuse of discretion, a trial court's ruling concerning the relative probative value and prejudicial impact of the evidence will not be disturbed on review.  People v. Gibbens, 905 P.2d 604 (Colo.1995).

A trial court abuses its discretion only if, under the circumstances, its decision is manifestly arbitrary, unreasonable, or unfair.  People v. Gibbens, supra;  People v. McCoy, 944 P.2d 584 (Colo.App.1996).

Although the disputed evidence here was voluminous, the trial court did not err in determining that it showed defendant's motive and malice.   Further, each time such evidence was introduced, the court gave a limiting instruction advising the jury the evidence was to be used only to show malice and motive on defendant's part and for no other purpose.   See People v. McKibben, 862 P.2d 991 (Colo.App.1993) (involving similar admonitory instruction).

Under these circumstances, we perceive no abuse of discretion by the trial court in admitting this evidence.

V.

Defendant next contends the cumulative effect of the trial court's evidentiary errors precluded her from receiving a fair trial.   However, because we have found no errors in the trial court's evidentiary rulings, there can be no cumulative error.   See People v. Rowerdink, 756 P.2d 986 (Colo.1988).

VI.

Defendant next asserts that her advisement under People v. Curtis, 681 P.2d 504 (1984) was insufficient because:  (1) the trial court did not adequately advise her about the scope of the prosecution's possible cross-examination;  and (2) the court failed to find the waiver of her right to testify was voluntary.   We disagree.

Curtis requires that a defendant's waiver of his or her right to testify be made intelligently and competently.  People v. Gray, 920 P.2d 787 (Colo.1996).   A trial court's determination that a defendant effectively waived the right to testify will be upheld if it is supported by competent evidence.  Roelker v. People, 804 P.2d 1336 (Colo.1991).

The validity of a waiver is based upon the totality of the circumstances.   If the record reflects the defendant was apprised of the right to testify and understood the probable consequences of testifying, the trial court's finding of a valid waiver will be upheld.  People v. Turley, 870 P.2d 498 (Colo.App.1993).

Here, the trial court questioned defendant in detail regarding the prosecutor's right to cross-examine her if she chose to testify and regarding the voluntariness of her decision not to testify.   It is apparent from the record that defendant's equivocation surrounding this decision was based upon her uncertainty about the scope of the possible cross-examination.

Nevertheless, we conclude the trial court's advisement was sufficient.   Except for informing a defendant concerning the prosecution's use of prior felony convictions, a trial court providing a Curtis advisement is not required to advise a defendant regarding all possible areas of cross-examination.   See People v. York, 897 P.2d 848 (Colo.App.1994) (trial court not required to advise a defendant about every strategic consequence of testifying, nor about the consequences of testifying to specific facts).

We further conclude the totality of circumstances supports the trial court's determination that defendant effectively waived her right to testify.   See People v. Gray, supra (defendant's statement that she did not want to testify is evidence of voluntary waiver).

VII.

Nor are we persuaded by defendant's argument that the trial court erred in denying her motion for a mistrial based upon two specific aspects of the prosecution's closing argument.

A trial court has broad discretion to grant or deny a mistrial, and its decision will not be disturbed on appeal absent gross abuse of discretion and prejudice to the defendant.  People v. Collins, 730 P.2d 293 (Colo.1986);  People v. Dooley, 944 P.2d 590 (Colo.App.1997).

Whether a prosecutor's statements constitute inappropriate prosecutorial argument is a matter within the trial court's discretion.   A trial court must determine whether the prosecutorial misconduct in all probability influenced the jury's result or affected the fairness of the proceedings.  Harris v. People, 888 P.2d 259 (Colo.1995).

Claims of improper argument must be evaluated in the context of the argument as a whole and in light of the evidence before the jury.   Such evaluations are best done by the trial court.  People v. Gutierrez, 622 P.2d 547 (Colo.1981);  People v. Walters, 821 P.2d 887 (Colo.App.1991).

A.

According to defendant, the prosecutor impermissibly commented on her failure to testify by referring to her failure to put on alibi witnesses, and that such error justified the granting of a mistrial.   We disagree.

A prosecutor's comments regarding a defendant's failure to produce alibi witnesses are proper comments on the evidence.  People v. Medina, 190 Colo. 225, 545 P.2d 702 (1976);  People v. Marioneaux, 44 Colo.App. 213, 618 P.2d 678 (1980).

Here, in its rebuttal, the prosecutor reminded the jury of a taped interview defendant gave to law enforcement officers after her arrest in which defendant mentioned she had nine alibi witnesses.   However, this remark did not directly refer to defendant's failure to testify.   The prosecutor was simply noting that defendant had failed to produce the claimed alibi witnesses to account for her whereabouts on the date of the murder.

The prosecutor's remark did not refer to her co-defendant's failure to testify because, when examined in context, the co-defendant was not one of the nine alibi witnesses to whom defendant had referred.   This isolated remark also was made in response to defense counsel's summation and the prosecutor is afforded some latitude in responding to the defense's closing argument.   See People v. Vialpando, 804 P.2d 219 (Colo.App.1990).

B.

Defendant also asserts that the trial court should have granted a mistrial based upon a portion of the prosecutor's argument which, according to defendant, contained patriotic statements designed to invoke the passion and prejudice of the jury.   Again, we disagree.

At the end of the rebuttal argument, the prosecutor requested the jury, “on behalf of the people of the State of Colorado, and particularly on behalf of those in that group for whom the memory of [the victim] endures,” to return verdicts of guilty “based on the evidence and the inescapable truth which flows from the totality of that evidence.”

However, we conclude that this statement did no more than to humanize the victim, see People v. Marin, 686 P.2d 1351 (Colo.App.1983), and that it did not rise to the level of patriotic zealotry or the “impermissible oratorical excess” disapproved by the supreme court in Harris v. People, supra, 888 P.2d at 265.

C.

Although defendant failed to object to other parts of the prosecutor's closing argument, she nevertheless asserts that the closing argument as a whole constituted plain error.   We have reviewed the closing argument and reject this contention.   See People v. Marin, supra.

VIII.

Finally, defendant asserts that the trial court erred in denying the jury's request to review certain parts of the trial testimony.   We do not agree.

During its deliberations the jury requested transcripts of the testimony of four witnesses.   The jury did not specify whether it wanted all or part of the testimony.

Transcripts were unavailable and, after learning it would take about 13 and one-half hours to read back the testimony, the trial court solicited the parties' positions regarding an appropriate response to the jury's request.   Defendant's position was that the request should be honored.   Co-defendant opposed reading back the testimony.   The People took no set position, suggesting instead that the jury be told how long it would take to read back the testimony, and that it be given the option of relying on its collective memory.

Following this conference with counsel, the trial court advised the jury that transcripts of the testimony had not been prepared and that the requested procedure would involve the court reporter reading back the testimony, which would take about 13 and one-half hours.   The trial court then stated:

Based on your request, the Court's view is that you should rely upon your collective memories of the testimony that was given.   And if you have further requests, the Court would consider that, but that is the procedure that would be followed.

Thank you.   Please return to your deliberations.

The reading of all or part of the testimony of one or more witnesses at trial at the specific request of the jury during their deliberations is discretionary with the trial court.  Settle v. People, 180 Colo. 262, 504 P.2d 680 (1972);  Franklin v. People, 734 P.2d 133 (Colo.App.1986).

In exercising its discretion, the trial court should consider whether reading back certain testimony would unduly call attention to it, the difficulty involved in reading back the testimony, whether the jury's request is reasonably well-focused, and the amount of time the procedure would consume.  United States v. Akitoye, 923 F.2d 221 (1st Cir.1991);  United States v. Damsky, 740 F.2d 134 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 469 U.S. 918, 105 S.Ct. 298, 83 L.Ed.2d 233 (1984).

Here, the jury's request was relatively broad, not focused on a particular aspect of the witnesses' testimony, and the reading would have been very time-consuming.   Also, while the trial court did refuse the reading, its refusal was not unconditional, and left the door open to further requests by the jury.   See United States v. Akitoye, supra (upholding refusal of readback request under similar circumstances).   Under these circumstances, we therefore conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion by proceeding in this manner.

Judgment affirmed.

Opinion by Judge ROTHENBERG.

CRISWELL and DAVIDSON, JJ., concur.

 

 

 
 
 
 
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