District Circuit Court Judge Larry Boling sentenced Flanagan to life in prison without parole, for the murder which occurred June 12, 2004, south of Black Oak. The week long trial was held at the Craighead County Courthouse, in Lake City, beginning on Monday morning, Aug. 8, and continued through Friday, Aug. 12. Jury deliberations began at 6:41 p.m. and a verdict was given at 12:05 a.m. Saturday.
The state's case was presented by Second Judicial District Prosecutor Brent Davis and Deputy Prosecutor Alan Copelin, both of Jonesboro. Court-appointed defense attorneys were Llewellyn (Lou) Marezek and Robbie Golden, of Little Rock, along with Craighead County Public Defender Charlene Henry.
Flanagan was arrested in August of 2004, after confessing to the murder during police interrogations, and held in the Craighead County Detention Center in Jonesboro. The defense was denied a change of venue, asking that the trial be moved from Lake City to Jonesboro because of pre-trial publicity.
Copelin presented the opening statement for the state's case on Monday morning, contending Flanagan killed Coats and left him naked and dead in the St. Francis River sunken lands, near the Hatchie Coon area.
"Coats sustained multiple stab wounds in the chest and neck, penetrating the heart," Copelin said. "His right hand was partially cut off. Flanagan ended up giving three different versions of her part in the murder. In one she said Coats had gotten into a van with someone and left, in another version she said Beverly Coats stabbed him and she (Flanagan) cut his throat after he was dead, and in another statement she said she was alone with Dennis Coats when he turned onto a field road west of his home and he tried to rape her, and she stabbed him."
The defense case contended Beverly Coats, Dennis Coats, Judy Roach Flanagan, and her brother, Henry Dale Roach, had all been out drinking and drugging on the night of June 11, 2004. They started at the Fisherman's Inn (commonly called The Skullcracker) in Manila went through Lepanto, to an area called "the woods" to get drugs, and returned to the Coats' home on Bunney Road (County Road 837), south of Black Oak. Dennis Coats left his house to take Flanagan home and was never seen alive again, the defense contended.
Eastern District Deputy Sheriff Christopher Kelems testified Beverly Coats and her daughter Mechelle came to his home in Caraway early on June 12 to report Dennis Coats missing. Since Kelems was off-duty he directed them to Caraway Police Chief Jerry Vaughn.
Coats' body was found that same morning, by John Dennis and his young son, who had been riding their four-wheeler off Sunken Land Road, about two miles west of the Coats' home. Dennis called the police, and Craighead County Sheriff's Department Deputy Johnny Williams of Black Oak answered the call. When Williams arrived at the scene Flanagan and the Coats' baby-sitter and neighbor, Christy Woods, were parked on a field road, near the body of Dennis Coats. The victim was found naked with multiple stab wounds and was covered with a blue tarp. Kelems also responded to the 911 dispatch in reference to a body being found.
Woods testified she had offered to give Flanagan a ride to go look for Dennis Coats, and Flanagan had told her where to go. She said the night before was the first time she had ever met Flanagan. When Woods saw the body at the scene she went to call 911, but the battery to her cell phone was down. Then she saw the police pulling up behind them and she ran to them to tell them what they had found. Woods was later eliminated as a suspect in the case.
Flanagan told police she had last seen Dennis Coats getting into a white van, the night before, to go and drink beer, and she and Woods were out looking for him because he had not come home.
Dennis Coats was an area sheet-rock layer and was known to keep a blue tarp in the bed of his two-toned brown 1987 Ford F-150 truck to cover his equipment and supplies.
When the police went to notify the victim's widow of his death, they noticed Coat's truck had just been washed. It was later reported Beverly Coats and Flanagan had washed the truck before going into Caraway to report Dennis Coats missing. Later in the investigation blood and hair samples were taken from the truck and were proven to belong to the victim.
Defense attorney Golden declared in his opening statement that Judy Flanagan had no reason to kill Coats, but his wife did. Beverly Coats had taken out a $12,500 insurance policy on her husband five months earlier.
"The police thought Flanagan was an easy target, because of her mental condition and willingness to talk," Lou Marczuk said. "First Beverly (Coats) targeted her, and then the police."
Craighead County Deputy Sheriff Jared Bassham testified he took photos of the scene where the body had been found, even though it was not believed to be the death scene, due to absence of blood.
Bassham said Beverly Coats was considered as a suspect in the involvement of the Dennis Coats murder. Under the advice of her attorney, Bill Howard, Beverly Coats refused to testify in the case.
Judge Boling refused to allow the defense to play "Goodbye Earl," a popular ballad by the Dixie Chicks. A copy of the song was found by the police in the victim's truck stereo. Lou Marczuk read the words to the song for the record, but outside the presence of the jury. Marczuk contended the song paralleled what had happened during the murder, where two friends conspire to kill a man named Earl, poisoned his black-eyed peas, then cover him with a blue tarp.
On Aug. 24, Craighead County Sheriff's Department Deputy Justin Rolland was contacted by Henry Dale Roach with a request to go to the home of Robert and Joy Roach, Judy Flanagan's and Henry Dale Roach's parents, near Rivervale, because Flanagan wanted to talk about the Coats case. Rolland and Eastern District Deputy Sheriff Dewaine Malone went to the Roach home.
"Judy said she was starting to remember things and wanted to clear her conscience," Rolland said.
At Flanagan's request, Rolland and Malone took her to Lake City and did an audio taped interview. In the interview Flanagan said she, her brother, and Beverly and Dennis Coats had all gone to a bar, "the skullcracker," in Manila, on June 11, 2004. On the way home Dennis stopped the truck and he and his wife got in the back of the truck to have sex. She said she had seen Beverly stab Dennis while in the back of his truck. She said Beverly came around to the front of the truck and asked her to help remove something from the truck. She grabbed what she thought was Coats' feet.
As she was being transported to the Craighead County Detention Center in Jonesboro by Sheriff Jack McCann, Flanagan confessed to her part in the murder. A video tape was made of her confession later that day.
On a taped video interview played for the jury, Flanagan said Beverly Coats had told her to "cut the goat's throat," and she had just raked the knife across his throat and didn't bear down hard, and didn't stab him."
McCann testified that Flanagan said, "I didn't murder him, he was already dead when I cut his throat."
Medical examiner for the State Crime Lab, Dr. Frank Peretti, testified there were no post-mortem wounds, meaning no stab or cut wounds occurred after the victim's death.
Two kitchen knives, one bent and one broken, a pair of men's boots and a red shirt were later found by officers, with the help of Caraway Search and Rescue, in the water off the second bridge (County Road 876) to the east of where the victim's body was found. The victim's wallet was never found.
Dr. Peretti also testified there had been no apparent signs of a struggle, and he did not believe the victim's wounds were caused by the two knives pulled from the ditch.
Dr. Rebecca Caperton, a clinical psychologist from Memphis, testified Flanagan was depressed and had an I.Q. of 79, listing her as borderline mentally retarded. She also testified Flanagan had a long history of alcohol and drug abuse, was the oldest of nine children, had been married six times, attempted suicide several times and had told she had been mentally and sexually abused.
Flanagan declined to testify during her trial.
Craighead County Coroner Toby Emerson testified Dennis Coats had blood smudges under the left armpit, and the body appeared to have been lifted, but not dragged. Coats' socks were pulled down as if someone had helped move him by lifting his feet up. There was no evidence on the ground that the body had been dragged, and the socks were clean.
The defense contended at least two people lifted the victim's body out of the truck to leave it at the scene.
Henry Dean Roach admitted he and Beverly Coats had sex prior to and after Dennis Coats was murdered. Roach had also called the police on Aug. 24, after he said his sister, Judy Flanagan, had told him she had not meant to kill Dennis Coats.
Roach has not been charged with any crime in connection with Dennis Coats' murder, even though his friend Karen Griffin, of Lepanto, testified Roach had come to her home in the early morning hours of June 12, 2004, with blood on his hands.
Beverly Coats has been charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution, but not murder. Her trial date is set for Aug. 29.