Defendant Charged with Setting a Man on Fire Testifies


By Danielle Eden C. Silva

Defendant Robert Glen Coe is facing four charges including attempted murder, aggravated mayhem, arson causing great bodily injury and threats to commit a crime. He is represented by Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso. The prosecution is represented by Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays.

On Aug. 27, 2018, in West Sacramento, the complaining witness “J.R.” had entered Mr. Coe’s property after numerous previous occasions of being asked to leave. Mr. Coe claims he acted in self-defense and threw gasoline on J.R. before lighting a match as J.R. attempted to punch him. The complaining witness caught on fire as a result.

The trial continued with the testimony from an emergency care doctor who had seen J.R. after he was burned. The doctor had seen burns on his legs and arms when he entered the emergency room but not after the burned man received the skin grafts. When the victim arrived and continued to suffer pain, the doctor had to sedate him.

In the medical report, the victim was noted to have given an incorrect name and date of birth. The burned man also tested positive for amphetamine and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), a bacteria on the skin that is resistant to antibiotics and could cause infections. The emergency care doctor did not focus on those at the time of the victim’s arrival since the doctor did not believe they affected the burn treatment.

“R.B.,” Mr. Coe’s 73-year-old roommate, took the stand next. R.B. stated he had been living with Mr. Coe for some time and had considered J.R.’s aunt a friend. He didn’t invite J.R. over but did welcome J.R. whenever he came onto the property, even if he knew that Mr. Coe and another resident did not want J.R. on the property. Mr. Coe and J.R. had been fighting over Mr. Coe’s girlfriend and J.R. had been accused of stealing from the house. The witness would often tell J.R. to hide in the closet when he visited. He did state that small things were taken from him like cigarettes and food.

R.B. mentioned one occasion where the defendant had sprayed wasp spray on J.R. and R.B. R.B. had been asleep when there was a rapping at the bedroom window next to his bed. J.R. wanted to come inside and the tapping had woken Mr. Coe. The witness was going to let him in but Mr. Coe took some wasp spray and sprayed J.R., also hitting R.B.’s head. On other occasions, the defendant had verbally attacked J.R., not physically. While R.B. considers the complaining witness a friend, he had not seen J.R. since Coe’s arrest.

Officer Mark Flatley of the Rocklin PD testified next on a call from dispatch for service. On Aug. 27, 2018, he had been the first person on the scene. When he arrived at Pecan Street in West Sacramento, a man was outside spraying himself with water. As Officer Flatley approached, he noticed the smell of gasoline. On the ground, a red and black button-up shirt was burnt and a blanket was still smoldering. He talked to the man, J.R., and then walked around outside of the residence, making contact with a woman before continuing to walk around the place.

Officer Christopher Riggens would inform Officer Flatley about the situation: namely, that Mr. Coe and J.R. had gotten in an argument. Many police officers and firefighters had arrived on the scene by then. The two officers walked around the house before Officer Riggens told someone to come out with his hands up. Officer Flatley saw Mr. Coe come out from a crawl space in the house and went over to put him in handcuffs in compliance, noticing burns and peeling skin on the defendant’s hands. They escorted the defendant to medical care afterward. Officer Flatley also noted he had seen no landline.

The afternoon session would begin with testimony from Kevin Skaife, Investigator for the Yolo County District Attorney’s Office. Investigator Skaife got involved in the case after the preliminary hearing, retrieving a recording from a jail visit to Mr. Coe. In the recording, presented by Attorney Hays to the jury, Mr. Coe speaks with his sister and mentions he lit J.R. on fire and had his life threatened twice.

“Self-defense,” Mr. Coe said during the jail visit. “He came into my house.”

The defendant had also noted that J.R. had swung two punches and he then threw gasoline on him, setting him on fire inside of the house.

The prosecution rested their case. The defense began their evidence with testimony from the UCD Medical Center and Shriner Hospital Burn Doctor, Dr. Soman Sen, M.D. Dr. Sen had given J.R. the skin grafts after discovering 22-23 percent of the skin’s surface area was burned. After a physical exam where he took in the medical condition and injuries of the patient, he originally found that 20 percent of the skin had been burned with 19 percent being a second-degree burn and one percent being a third-degree burn. Later, the injuries evolved to 22-23 percent of the skin, all with third-degree burns.

Dr. Sen explained the skin is split up into two parts. First-degree burns affect only the top layer of skin. Second-degree burns affect the top later and part of the deeper layer. Third-degree burns affect the top and all of the second layer of skin. Fourth-degree burns go down to the muscle tissue.

While the skin may have appeared to be “pink and moist” when Dr. Sen first examined the areas of both thighs and arms, the burns became worse over time from continuing cell deterioration. If he had not done the skin-graft surgery, J.R. may have gotten infected or suffered physical impairment later on. Dr. Sen did not know if the patient had MRSA.

The defense ended their evidence with the defendant, Mr. Coe.

Mr. Coe stated he originally didn’t hate J.R. They were originally friends and then stopped because J.R. “tormented, threatened, and intimidated” him. He also stated J.R. was on drugs and stealing tools to purchase said drugs. On one occasion, the defendant saw J.R. using drugs in the house.

The defendant had seen his girlfriend staggering out of the bathroom with a syringe and helped her sit down. He went to throw out the syringe and as he passed by the bathroom he saw J.R. shooting up in the bathroom.

In regard to the wasp spray incident, Mr. Coe stated he had been sleeping when J.R.’s tapping had woken him up. He told J.R. to leave but J.R. stated that since Mr. Coe didn’t pay rent and R.B. did, the latter had more authority. After spraying J.R. with the wasp spray, Mr. Coe had walked him out the front door.

On Aug. 27, 2018, Mr. Coe recalled that his girlfriend had slapped him in the head and told him J.R. was in the house again, “coveting all his stuff.” On previous occasions, Mr. Coe had called the cops and J.R. would leave. This time, however, he went inside with the gasoline and told J.R. to leave. When J.R. said he wouldn’t, the defendant threw everything he had in his arms at J.R., including the gasoline. J.R. had jumped out of his chair, with two punches hitting and one punch missing. After that, the defendant lit him up, claiming he thought the furnace would light J.R. up. Mr. Coe said he did that to save himself from being beaten up.

After he saw that J.R. was on fire, the defendant said he tried to grab the burning man to put him down and the fire out. Mr. Coe claims he wasn’t trying to kill him and had hidden in the crawlspace behind the house since he was afraid of J.R.’s family.

In cross-examination, however, Mr. Coe’s testimony changed. He noted that when he had approached J.R. inside of the house, J.R. had been going through a backpack and appeared to be pulling out a weapon of some kind, which the prosecution noted conflicted with a statement taken by the investigating officer, Detective Jerry Watson. In that statement, Detective Watson had been told by Mr. Coe that J.R. had not threatened him or had any weapons. In addition, his testimony noted J.R. had remained in his seat when he was doused in gasoline. The defendant also said he told J.R. to get out of his house or he’ll light him on fire.

When the fire occurred, however, no working phones were available and Mr. Coe did not go to any of his neighbors for assistance.

The defense finished their evidence with Mr. Coe’s testimony. The trial will resume in Department 10 with closing statements.

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About The Author

The Vanguard Court Watch puts 8 to 12 interns into the Yolo County House to monitor and report on what happens. Anyone interested in interning at the Courthouse or volunteering to monitor cases should contact the Vanguard at info(at)davisvanguard(dot)org

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