Date: September 13, 2018


SANTA ANA, Calif. – Governor Jerry Brown reversed a grant of parole for a man who raped and murdered his stepmother and a family friend in 1975 after the Orange County District Attorney’s (OCDA) Office sent a letter of opposition. Gregory Coates, 61, was sentenced to 12 years to life for the brutal rape and murder of his stepmother and a family friend in 1975. His next parole hearing has been scheduled for November 2019.

The OCDA opposed the parole and issued a letter to Governor Brown explaining the reasons for the opposition. 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. There are no living relatives of Orange County victim Betty Coates. The Board of Parole Hearings granted parole on May 2, 2018 and the OCDA appealed to Governor Brown to reverse the decision. The full letter to Governor Brown can be found here. 

Governor Brown stated his belief that Coates currently poses an unreasonable danger to society if released from prison as his reason for reversing the decision for parole Sept. 7, 2018.

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.

Governor Brown’s Decision

In Governor Brown’s letter discussing his reasons for reversing Coates’ parole, he combed through the evidence regarding Coates’ crimes and his time in custody. Brown acknowledged the record of evidence which showed that Coates had increased in his maturity and rehabilitation as well as the “diminished culpability due to his age at the time of these crimes,”, but ultimately stated that “these factors are outweighed by evidence that he remains unsuitable for parole.”

Brown goes on to discuss the murders, describing them as “atrocious” and “heinous” and stating that “these crimes remain especially shocking and disturbing.” Brown claims that “Coates’ understanding of his reasons for committing his crimes are inadequate,” and that he does little to explain the extent of violence and brutality of these murders. Brown specifically states, “Both these murders show an unbelievable level of sexual violence that he just can’t seem to explain.”

In conclusion, Brown notes that Coates has improved his conduct during his incarceration, but believes that “Mr. Coates has more work to do.” He decided to reverse the decision to parole Coates because of the danger he would pose to society if released from prison.

To read the full letter from Governor Brown, click here.