By Linnea Patterson
“If she was gonna leave, she was gonna leave with someone ugly,” was the justification a man made for throwing gasoline on another man and lighting him on fire in his home in August 2018.
The trial of the People v. Robert Glen Coe began on Wednesday in Department 10, the Honorable Janene Beronio presiding. Mr. Coe is charged with arson, aggravated mayhem with great bodily harm, and premeditated attempted murder.
In opening statements, Deputy District Attorney Deanna Hays emphasized the plight of the victim, James Rach, as proof of Mr. Coe’s intent to kill. Mr. Rach was homeless at the time of the crime, and often stayed at Mr. Coe’s residence in West Sacramento, as he was friends with Mr. Coe’s roommate. Once Mr. Rach became close with Mr. Coe’s girlfriend, Mr. Coe became aggravated with Mr. Rach’s presence. This feeling escalated until the day of the crime, when Mr. Coe poured gasoline on Mr. Rach, and allegedly said, “I told you to leave motherf***er, now what?” and began sparking a lighter at Mr. Rach. Mr. Rach attempted to punch Mr. Coe, and Mr. Coe lit Mr. Rach on fire. Mr. Rach’s flames were then put out by a blanket, and he was taken to the hospital with 3rd degree burns on 20-30% of his body.
Ms. Hays emphasized the emotional turmoil that surrounded the attack, in the apparent love triangle in which Mr. Coe, his girlfriend, and Mr. Rach were embroiled. However, Ms. Hays insisted that “jealousy is not a justification for attempted murder,” and the severe burns on Mr. Rach will affect him for the rest of his life.
Meanwhile, Deputy Public Defender Peter Borruso had a much different narrative of the attack. Mr. Borruso claimed that Mr. Rach was a nuisance to Mr. Coe, and often was told to leave the house, even being chased off the property by the landlord. Mr. Borruso highlighted Mr. Rach’s past felonies and heroin addiction to display his dishonorable nature, and as to why Mr. Coe was so bothered by his presence. The charge of attempted murder is a falsity, according to Mr. Borruso, who argued that Mr. Coe “used only the means necessary to defend himself.” The defense even said, “If he had used a bat, baton, or even a gun, maybe we wouldn’t even be here.” The fact that Mr. Coe immediately put out the fire on Mr. Rach with a blanket showed that there was never intent to kill, argued Mr. Borruso.
Mr. Rach’s following testimony created yet another version of the same story. According to the victim, Mr. Coe and his purported girlfriend were never dating – in fact, she became Mr. Rach’s girlfriend shortly after they met. Further, Mr. Rach claimed he was never told to leave previously by Mr. Coe, as the defense argued. And he said that Mr. Coe’s threatening spark of the lighter was enough to make Mr. Rach fearful for his life. He claimed he “submitted to death in that moment.” At the request of the prosecution, Mr. Rach showed the jury his extensive burns, and explained that he has permanent nerve damage which prevents him from sleeping normally, as well as PTSD from the attack which plagues him daily. The defense argued that Mr. Rach’s perception of the day could not possibly have been accurate, as he was on heroin that day. This untrustworthiness showed up later, according to Mr. Borruso, when Rach lied to the police about his date of birth and name. Mr. Rach claimed he was in so much pain after the incident that he does not remember anything until he woke up in the hospital.
The People vs. Coe will reconvene Thursday in Department 10 at 9 AM.