Date: August 1, 2018


*Board of Parole Hearings violated Marsy’s Law rights at inmate’s parole hearing

SANTA ANA, Calif. – Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Tony Rackauckas issued a letter petitioning Governor Jerry Brown to reverse the Board of Parole Hearing’s decision to grant parole to Gregory Coates, 61, who was sentenced to 12 years to life for the brutal rape and murder of his stepmother and a family friend in 1975. 

On May 2, 2018, the Board of Parole Hearings (the Board) determined Coates to be suitable for release into the community and granted his application for parole. Deputy District Attorney Susan Laird and several family members of Riverside victim Jean Stephens appeared at the parole hearing at San Quentin State Prison in San Francisco to strongly oppose Coates’ parole, defend public safety, and advocate for justice.

The OCDA strongly objects to the panel’s dangerous decision to parole Coates into the community and urges Governor Brown to use his executive power to reverse the grant of parole pursuant to Penal Code §3041.2. The OCDA further asserts the Board violated the Marsy’s Law rights of the victim’s family members, many of whom traveled several hours to attend, by limiting their testimony and prohibiting several family members from entering the parole hearing room.

Orange County Murder of Betty Coates

On May 4, 1975, Gregory Coates, then-17 years old, raped and murdered his 48-year-old stepmother Betty Coates in her home. After  sexually assaulting the victim, he bludgeoned and suffocated her to death, wrapped her body in towels, doused her in gasoline, and set her on fire. In October 1975, the inmate was convicted of Betty Coates’ murder. During the course of Betty Coates’ murder investigation, police linked Gregory Coates to a Riverside County murder from earlier that year.

Riverside County Murder of Jean Stephens

On Jan. 22, 1975, Gregory Coates burglarized the Riverside home of his friend’s mother, 37-year-old Jean Marie Stephens, looking for firearms to steal and sell. When Stephens discovered Coates in her home, he knocked her down with a dumbbell, raped her, and bit her stomach throughout the sexual assault as she screamed for help. Gregory Coates then murdered Stephens by shooting her twice in head with the firearm he stole from her. The inmate left the victim’s battered, naked body in a pool of blood. She was found by her 11-year-old daughter. In June 1976, Gregory Coates was convicted by a jury for Stephens’ murder.

For both murders, Gregory Coates was sentenced to 12 years to life in state prison based on the sentencing laws of 1975. He is currently serving his sentence at California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo.

Failure to Accept Responsibility and Danger to the Public

Despite the fact that Gregory Coates confessed to his crimes after his arrest for the Orange County rape and murder, he later claimed he discovered his stepmother naked in her bedroom and she “reluctantly agreed” to have sex with him. The inmate claimed he murdered Betty Coates only after she threatened to tell his father that she had been raped by Gregory Coates.  In 1991, Coates finally admitted to raping and murdering Betty Coates to stop her from screaming. 

At Coates’ parole hearing in 2011, the Board specifically cited the inmate’s continued failure to accept responsibility for the rapes, lack of credibility due to inconsistent versions of his crimes over the years, and the threat posed to women if released as reasons for Coates’ 10-year denial. Based on his failure to accept responsibility or show remorse for his two rapes and murders, the Board determined that he is a moderate to high risk for committing a future sexual and/or violent offense if released in the community.

At the inmate’s most recent parole hearing in May 2018, Coates admitted to the murders, but denied the rapes. After 43 years, the inmate conjured up perhaps the most offensive, disturbing and manipulative version of the facts, claiming to have had consensual sex with his stepmother after she allegedly sexually molested him for years. He further maintained that he murdered the victim over a dispute about money.

Violation of the Marsy’s Law

Marsy’s Law affords victims and their next of kin with basic rights to due process. Penal Code section 679.02(a)(5)  established the statutory right of the victim’s next of kin to be notified of any parole eligibility hearing and of the right to appear, to reasonably express his or her views and to have his or her statements considered at as provided by Penal Code section 3043.

On May 2, 2018, 10 of the 12 family members who personally appeared and addressed the panel had their Marsy’s Law rights violated, as they were not permitted to adequately and reasonably express their views on all subjects permitted by Penal Code section 3043(b)(1). After just two family members spoke at the hearing, Commissioner Dobbs limited the subject matter of the impact statements to the panel to solely how Coates’ actions affected them personally. Commissioner Dobbs instructed the family members as follows:

  • “So for the next speakers, I’m going to ask that you limit your comments to how – how his actions affected you personally, just in the interest of time. Thank you.”  (2018 Hearing Transcript, p. 147.)

Commissioner Dobbs’ subject matter limitation deprived 10 family members of rights specifically afforded to them by Penal Code section 3043(b)(1), namely to express their views regarding important topics such as the commitment crime, the effect of the inmate’s crime on the family of the victim, the inmate himself and the inmate’s suitability for parole. Her emphasis that such restriction was necessary “in the interest of time” further violated their rights by discouraging the speakers from making a complete statement. After the hearing, the affected family members stated they did in fact shorten their prepared statements because the Commissioner’s instruction. Many of the victim’s family members traveled long distances from Southern California, Fresno, Las Vegas, and Dallas, spending considerable time and money, to attend the hearing in San Quentin only to have their comments unlawfully restricted.

In addition, at least three family members were denied access to the parole hearing room and were unable to face the inmate and the panel when giving their impact statements. Due to hearing room size and safety considerations, many of the family members were in an adjacent room, where they could only participate over an audio conference call on speaker. The OCDA believes the impact of their statements was diminished by the commissioners’ inability to see the victims’ emotions.

Based on these violations of Marsy’s Law, the victim’s family members and next of kin are entitled to a new parole eligibility hearing where they can “adequately and reasonably” express their views as permitted by Penal Code section 3034(b).

OCDA’s Opposition and Request for Executive Reversal

This parole grant jeopardizes public safety due to inmate Coates’s minimization of the rape, torture, and murder of two vulnerable women who were mother figures to him. Based on his prior parole hearings, the inmate’s apparent “acceptance” of responsibility was designed specifically to win a parole date and is not a true recognition of his heinous acts. Without accepting full responsibility for the true nature of this crime, the inmate continues to present a clear and unacceptable danger to our community.

Coates has previously stated he felt good about killing Mrs. Coates and he had no emotional problems after murdering Mrs. Stephens. The inmate was able to act normally and feign innocence around Mrs. Stephen’s mourning family, spending the night at their house the night before the funeral and attending the funeral like a family member. The murders were of a particularly callous and cruel nature in that the inmate raped, tortured, and mutilated his stepmother and friend’s mother. The inmate remains a serious threat to the community because he continues to demonstrate a detachment from his crimes and lack of insight into the causative factors.

Over the course of 43 years, Coates has provided at least seven different versions of the crimes that range from admitting he brutally raped both victims to claiming his stepmother seduced him. The inmate has lied to and manipulated his evaluators by saying what he thinks he needs to get paroled. This is evident based on the pattern of disparate tales he tells, as well as his own admission in the 1991 psychological report stating he has “gone along with” various theories by previous evaluators when he didn’t truly accept the explanations. The multitude of different versions of the facts that Coates has proffered over the years reveals his glaring lack of insight into his life crimes.

The OCDA objects the Board’s parole suitability finding and believes Coates poses a substantial risk of committing a future sexual and/or violent offense if released into the community. The OCDA respectfully requests Governor Brown, who has 30 days after the parole board’s decision is final, to use his executive power to reverse the grant of parole pursuant to Penal Code §3041.2. 

To read the OCDA’s full letter to Governor Brown, please click here.