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Judge: Keep him where he belongs

The late comedian Richard Pryor once performed at a prison. He later confessed he expected to feel a kinship with the oppressed inmates. After he actually met some of them, however, he exclaimed, “Thank God we got jails!”

That expression comes to mind while reading about Christopher Allen Coates in this opinion from Chief U.S. District Judge James Jones. Sitting in Big Stone Gap, Jones describes Coates as a “dangerous and troubled individual.” Jones acknowledges that’s putting it mildly.

Now 29, Coates has been in prison since age 15, when he was convicted of sexually assaulting his three-year-old sister. In prison, he racked up 133 disciplinary sanctions, most for violent offenses.

A chief psychiatrist dismissed any suggestion he was a victim of mental illness: “He is a prevaricator and obfuscater par excellence.” The doctor used all caps to emphasize his diagnosis of Coates: “HE IS A DANGEROUS PSYCHOPATH.”

Considering Coates’ downright scary prison record, Judge Jones had the task of determining an appropriate sentence for Coates’ mailing of letters threatening to kill the president and his wife as well as a prison warden and his family.

Citing the need to protect society, Jones threw away the guidelines and nailed Coates with the maximum sentence: ten more years behind bars.

“I believe that a sentence above the guideline range is necessary in order to incapacitate the defendant to better protect the public from his future conduct,” Jones wrote.

Not a moment too soon, I’d say. According to the state corrections Web site, Coates’ projected release date is tomorrow, Feb. 19.

By Peter Vieth

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