Report by Bob Bonnar, Editor
News Letter Journal in Newcastle, Wyoming
It has been more than five years since Katy Coffee’s body was found in her home by a co-worker on the morning of June 3, 2011, and on Tuesday the man accused of firing the bullet that killed her admitted publicly to doing so in an arraignment before Sixth District Court Judge Thomas W. Rumpke.
Tuesday’s proceedings were intended primarily to allow prosecutors and the attorney for 46-year old Michael Davis to submit a plea agreement to the judge for approval, and while Rumpke did, in fact, sign off on the agreement, he withheld approval of the sentence suggested by both parties until after he receives the report of a pre-sentence investigation.
Final determination of Davis’ fate will also hinge upon the outcome of a pending federal case against him for being a felon in possession of a firearm. As part of the plea agreement signed by lawyers for both sides on August 11 of this year, Davis is expected to plead guilty to the federal charge and agree to a 120 month prison term.
Davis had initially been charged with one count of first degree murder for the slaying of Coffee after he was arrested in December of last year, and he also faced a charge of compounding a felony for withholding evidence of the crime.
Under the plea deal, the defendant and his attorney agreed to plead guilty to one count of voluntary manslaughter, and prosecutors agreed to drop the additional charge of compounding a felony.
Rumpke’s hesitancy to approve the agreement in its entirety stemmed from concerns he expressed regarding the “voluntary” actions admitted to by Davis when he addressed the court.
After declaring “guilty” when the judge asked for his plea, Davis was then asked to provide the facts of what occurred on the evening of June 2, 2011 in Coffee’s home on the west side of Newcastle.
He spoke very briefly, indicating that he took a firearm to Coffee’s house because she was “looking for a handgun to buy.”
Through his attorney, Nick Carter of Gillette, Davis admitted that he “voluntarily” possessed the handgun in violation of federal law, and that he knowingly took the gun to Coffee’s residence, but he gave no indication of what transpired prior to the shooting, or how the gun came to be fired.
“During our interaction, the handgun in my hand discharged,” he stated.
Rumpke appeared unsatisfied with the statement made by Davis, and told attorneys for both sides that he believed the facts admitted by the defendant were more in line with a plea of “involuntary” manslaughter.
“I don’t hear a factual basis for voluntary manslaughter,” Rumpke declared, indicating that the statute governing voluntary manslaughter indicates that a killing has taken place “in a heat of passion,” and that there was no indication of passion in the facts presented by Davis.
“His action was voluntary,” Carter countered. He then told the judge that his client, Davis, would also agree to waive any defects that could potentially be argued in the facts presented to the judge on Tuesday.
That prompted Rumpke to eventually accept the deal after Deputy Weston County Attorney Lynda Black, who spoke for the prosecution, indicated that the State was willing to accept the “Alford plea” offered by Davis and his attorney. (An Alford plea allows a defendant to enter a plea of guilty in criminal court without making a formal admission of guilt.)
“I find you guilty of manslaughter,” Rumpke declared after the terms of the deal were laid out before him, but he again expressed reservations about the “voluntary” nature of Davis’ actions, and reserved the right to impose a sentence different than the one agreed upon by attorneys for both sides.
In the agreement, Davis will accept a term of 14-18 years in the Wyoming State Penitentiary, to run concurrently with the sentence he will receive in federal court. The defendant will also plead guilty to the federal charge and stipulate in federal court to be sentenced to serve the maximum term of 120 months—or ten years. As part of the deal, the time remaining on the sentence Davis will receive for the state charge will be suspended after he has served the federal sentence.
At the conclusion of the hearing, Rumpke revoked Davis’ bond in the wake of the guilty plea and ordered the attorneys for both sides to report on the status of the federal case within 60 days so a date can be set for a sentencing hearing on the charge of voluntary manslaughter.
Davis, clad in a red prison jumpsuit, was led from the courtroom—which was filled with bystanders, many of whom had traveled from Texas and Montana as a show of support to Coffee’s family—and returned to the Weston County Detention Center.