Friday, August 20, 2004
S.C. Upholds Death Sentences for ‘Folsom Wolf’ and Girlfriend Who Claimed He Battered Her
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The California Supreme Court yesterday unanimously upheld the death sentences for a man who told a judge he killed three people and deserved to die, as well as for the girlfriend whom he claimed drove him to commit the crimes.
The justices rejected claims by attorneys for James Gregory Marlow and Cynthia Coffman that their defenses were so mutually inconsistent it was an abuse of discretion for retired San Bernardino Superior Court Judge Don Turner, assigned to hear the case, not to grant separate trials.
There was plenty of independent evidence against both defendants, Justice Kathryn M. Werdegar wrote. Not only was there no abuse of discretion, she said, the case against both defendants was so strong that any error would have been harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.
Marlow admitted to his involvement in three 1986 murders—one in his native Kentucky as well as those of Lynell Murray in Huntington Beach and Corinna Novis in Redlands. But he sought to shift much of the blame for the California killings to Coffman.
The pair met after Coffman and her previous boyfriend, Doug Huntley, were arrested after an altercation with several men at a convenience store. Coffman was released after five days, but Huntley remained in jail and Marlow showed up at the apartment she and Huntley had shared.
Marlow, who had served time at Folsom prison and called himself the “Folsom Wolf,” said he was there at Huntleyís request to look after Coffman. The pair and Huntley remained friendly after Huntleyís release, but by June 1986—five months before the Novis and Murray murders—Huntley was back behind bars and Marlow and Coffman began what both later said was a violent relationship.
Both were sentenced to death for the Novis murder. Coffman drew a life-without-parole sentence in the Murray killing, while Marlowís Orange Superior Court death sentence in that case was affirmed yesterday in a separate opinion.
Novis, 20, was abducted after cashing a check at a First Interstate Bank drive-through window near the Redlands Mall. Her body was found eight days later in a shallow grave in Fontana; she had either been strangled or suffocated.
Murray, 19, was abducted at gunpoint from the Huntington Beach dry cleaners where she worked, then was raped and strangled in a seaside motel room’s bathtub, five days after Novis was killed.
A San Bernardino Superior Court jury found both defendants guilty of the murder of Novis, as well as kidnapping, kidnapping for robbery, robbery, residential burglary, and forcible sodomy. In returning death penalty verdicts as to both defendants, jurors apparently rejected Coffmanís testimony that she only went along with Marlow because he had hit and threatened her and she was afraid he would harm her son, then six years old.
Coffman, whose defense also included testimony by an expert on battered womanís syndrome, said Marlow told her he was a white supremacist and killed blacks in prison. Marlow denied on rebuttal that he had done or said he had done any such thing.
Marlow testified it was Coffmanís idea to kill Novis; all he wanted to do, he said, was steal her car and get her personal identification number so that he could get money from an ATM. Coffman, he said, insisted on Novis being killed.
Prosecutors presented testimony from police witnesses, as well as from a cellmate of Coffmanís, suggesting that both defendants had taken credit for the murder.
Werdegar rejected the argument that Turner abused his discretion by not granting a change of venue. She noted the size of San Bernardino County, and pointed out that while there was a good deal of pretrial publicity, the reports were not particularly inflammatory, the victim not a prominent person, and the seating of a jury no more difficult than in other capital cases.
Werdegar also rejected Coffmanís contention that she should not be executed because she was less culpable than Marlow.
“...Coffman, 24 years old at the time of the offenses, was found by the jury to have committed murder and to have engaged in the charged felonies with the intent to kill or to aid or abet Marlow in killing the victim,” the justice wrote. “The jury also heard evidence that Coffman, together with Marlow, had committed another similar murder and other felony offenses in Orange County. Evidently the jury was not persuaded that Coffman suffered from such physical abuse or emotional or psychological oppression as to warrant a sentence less than death. Contrary to Coffmanís argument, the offenses here were of the most serious nature, and her sentence clearly befits her personal culpability.”
The cases are People v. Marlow and Coffman, 04 S.O.S. 4515, and People v. Marlow, 04 S.O.S. 4561.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company