The following is a press release issued by the Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office:
Charged with murdering a coastal neighbor in the Caspar area in May of 2017, defendant Kelley Anne Coan, age 45, formerly of Caspar, was found both guilty last week of murder in the first degree and the special allegation that she used a firearm to inflict death, and not guilty of the same crime and allegation by reason of insanity.
When a defendant is charged with committing a crime, he or she is presumed to have been sane at the time the crime was committed. If a defendant wishes to raise the defense of insanity, he or she pleads both not guilty to the substantive charges, denies any special allegations, and additionally enters a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity.
As adopted by the California voters in 1982, the legal test for determining whether a defendant is insane or not — known as the M’Naghten Rule — is whether the accused, at the time of the charged crime, “was incapable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of her act or of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the commission of the offense.”
With defendant Coan and the prosecution waiving their respective rights to a trial by jury on both the guilt and insanity phases, a court trial was convened last week. Based on evidence presented by the prosecution, the court found the defendant guilty of murder in the first degree. The special allegation alleging that the defendant used a firearm to commit the murder was found to be true.
The second phase of the trial was on the question of insanity. All forensic psychiatric professionals who evaluated the defendant (and submitted written reports to the court on that issue) came to the same conclusion – that defendant Coan was indeed incapable of knowing or understanding the nature and quality of her act or of distinguishing right from wrong at the time of the commission of the 2017 murder.
After those reports were received as evidence, the court issued its second verdict holding that the defendant was legally insane at the time of the murder.
Thus, the defendant having been found both guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity, it is expected that defendant Coan will next be committed to a state hospital, with the maximum period of her hospital confinement to be set at 50 years to life.
That said, if the defendant develops sufficient evidence over time (no less than 180 days in the state hospital up to the end of the life sentence) to show that she has regained her sanity, there is a chance she could win her release upon making an adequate showing in court proceedings that she has been restored and is a fit candidate to be released from the hospital without supervision.
Such a release based on a claim of restoration of sanity and fitness is ultimately a question to be decided by a jury. A jury would be selected, evidence would be presented by both sides, and then a future jury would be asked to decide whether the defendant, as of the time of the trial, continues to pose a danger to the health and safety of others as a result of mental disease, defect, or disorder.
California law presumes that a defendant who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity continues to be a danger to the health and safety of others.
In order to overcome this presumption of dangerousness, a defendant committed to the state hospital for murder has the burden of proving by competent evidence that it is more likely than not that she is no longer a danger.
If the defendant asserts that her sanity has been restored by the administration of prescribed medications, she also carries the burden of proving that she is voluntarily taking the prescribed medicine, that the medicine adequately controls her mental condition and/or impulses, and that she will continue to take that medication if released to an unsupervised environment.
Defendant Coan is expected back in the Mendocino County Superior Court on October 19, 2023 at 9 o’clock in the morning for the court to consider the recommendation of the county’s mental health director as to an appropriate placement for the defendant.
The local law enforcement agencies that investigated the underlying murder back in 2017 were the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office and the DA’s own Bureau of Investigations.
The attorney who has been directing the prosecution of defendant Coan these many years is Senior Deputy DA Scott McMenomey.
Mendocino County Superior Court Judge Keith Faulder presided over last week’s court trial at which the defendant was found guilty and not guilty by reason of insanity.