Beverly Coats enters guilty plea
Beverly Coats of Caraway entered a guilty plea Monday morning in Craighead County District Court in Lake City, charged with hindering apprehension or prosecution during the investigation of her murdered husband, Dennis Coats. Circuit Judge Larry Boling sentenced her to 15 year in prison, with a $7,500 fine.
Judy Flanagan of Lepanto was convicted of capital murder on Aug. 12 for the murder Dennis Coats on June 12, 2004, and sentenced to life in prison without parole.
Craighead County Eastern District Deputy Clerk Lesia Couch said 229 jury summons were mailed to potential jurors, but they were told not to report on Monday for the trial. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Alan Copelin and Coats court-appointed Public Defender Bill Howard continued their negotiations through the weekend, in anticipation of a plea agreement in the case, originally scheduled to begin on Monday.
Judge Boling reviewed the case with Coats to make sure she had a full understanding of what her unconditional guilty plea statement meant. He explained she would be giving up her rights to a trial by jury and to an appeal on the charges. Coats said she fully understood and elaborated on what she had done.
"I gave statements that I didn't know to be true," Coats said. "I was afraid of Judy (Flanagan), that she would hurt me or my children."
Howard maintained Coats had given a statement to the police, knowing it was false, about Dennis Coats getting into a white van with someone else on the night of the murder. Coats went on to give four separate statements but did not readily admit to her involvement. Flanagan confessed guilt to Coats the day after the murder, but she did not tell the police until after Aug. 26, 2004.
Copelin contended Coats was not afraid of Flanagan, as she freely went to her residence to pick her up after the murder. Coats and Flanagan went on to wash blood out of the back of Dennis Coats' two-toned brown 1987 Ford truck. Coats filed a missing-person complaint in Caraway, knowing her husband was already dead.
"Her (Coats) statement on the Aug. 26, 2004 video tape clearly shows what she said on June 12, about the case, was not true," Copelin said.
"This is your day in court," Judge Boling said to Coats. "I want to make sure your are pleading guilty because you know in fact you are guilty."
Coats agreed she was guilty of the charges of hindering apprehension or prosecution, by not telling the truth.
Craighead County Sheriffs Department Deputies John Varner and Justin Rolland addressed the court reviewing taped statements given by Beverly Coats, on June 12, 2004, and Aug. 26, 2004, revealing how her two statements differed.
After the court accepted Coats' guilty plea, and before Boling announced his sentence, defense attorney Howard asked consideration of a lesser level sentence than the standard grid allowed for his client.
"He (Dennis Coats) would be just as dead today, if she had not done what she did," Howard said. "She went along with the story given to her, but she had never been charged with contributing to the death of her husband."
Beverly Coats was facing a possible prison sentence of from 5 to 20 years and a fine up to $15,000, for the Class B level 5 felony. When Judge Boling set the sentence for Coats at 15 years, several of her family members in the court room openly wept. The victim's family declined to make impact statements and sat quietly during the proceedings and afterwards.
"I feel a sense of relief," said Junior Coats, Dennis Coats' father. "I had begun to wonder if there would be any justice for what happened to Dennis. This has been a long time coming, and it has kept our family tore up."
Judge Boling allowed Beverly Coats credit for the 238 days she has already served in jail.