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A Death In The Desert Sentence

A Boston hiker who fatally stabbed his best friend in the desert in what he called a "mercy killing" will serve two years in prison, followed by five years probation, according to a judge's sentence Wednesday.

State District Judge Jay Forbes sentenced Raffi Kodikian to 15 years, suspending all of that time except the two-year prison term. However, if Kodikian violates his probation, he will have to serve the full 15 years under New Mexico law.

Kodikian, who had been staying with his parents in a Philadelphia suburb, listened intently as the judge was giving his sentence. Kodikian's family was crying.

"Raffi Kodikian's conduct in this situation caused the life of David Coughlin to end," Forbes said. "Mr. Coughlin was a particularly vulnerable victim and the impact on his family ... is never and will never be forgotten by them."

Coughlin's family was not in the courtroom, but had prepared a statement that they faxed to prosecutor Les Williams.

"We can think of no reason why Raffi would have wished David any harm or pain," the statement said. "Moreover, we cannot presume to know what transpired, or the thoughts and emotions the two experienced during the days before David's death. To be sure, we have questions. However, we find it difficult to believe there was any malicious intent."

Kodikian killed Coughlin in Carlsbad Caverns National Park after the two got lost and were without water for four days.

Kodikian could have faced up to 20 years in prison.

In his closing argument, Williams cited the testimony in the sentencing hearing from experts on dehydration. He said Coughlin would have survived if he had not been killed.

"Where there is life, there is hope. The defendant purposely took David Coughlin's life .... David Coughlin would be alive today if Raffi Kodikian had not killed him. The law says you may not murder another person just because you think it's in their best interest."

David Coughlin, yearbook photo

Kodikian, 26, had pleaded no contest to second-degree murder before his sentencing hearing began Monday. In court Tuesday, he recounted the moments that led up to his stabbing Coughlin last August in the back country of the caverns.

He testified that Coughlin begged Kodikian to kill him. His eyes brimming with tears, Kodikian testified that Coughlin told him to get a knife.

"And I said, no, I wasn't going to do that," Kodikian said. He said Coughlin grabbed him. "He said, `You know they're not going to come.' I said, `I know no one is coing.'"

Kodikian said Coughlin told him to put the knife in his chest. Kodikian stabbed him twice.

"I asked him if he was still in pain, and he said no, he felt a lot better and he smiled, Kodikian said. He said he held Coughlin's hand until he died.

Williams asked Kodikian if he knew what he was doing at the time.

"What I thought I was doing was keeping my friend from going through 12 to 24 hours of hell before he died," Kodikian said.

Williams asked, "It wasn't mental illness that made you kill him, it was mercy?"

"That's the way I see it, yeah," Kodikian said.

Williams also asked Kodikian about a topographical map the two had bought at the park's visitor center. Such a map was found at their campsite. Kodikian said he didn't think that was his map; he said he believed they burned his map in a fire they set to try get help.

A neuropsychologist who tested Kodikian told the judge that a topographical map would have been nearly impossible for Kodikian to read at the time because of the way his mind processed information. "He might as well be reading a text in Greek," Dr. Thomas Thompson said.

The two hit the road last summer for the West Coast, where Coughlin intended to pursue a master's degree in environmental science at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

When they reached Carlsbad, they planned to camp in the canyon for one night, then head back out the next morning. But they couldn't find the trail back out. They tried walking in several directions over the next few days, but with no success.

They ran out of water and food, and Kodikian tried drinking his own urine after straining it through a baseball cap. Kodikian testified that Coughlin eventually became ill and started vomiting. He helped pull mucus out of Coughlin's throat.
At one point, with buzzards circling overhead and fear of rattlesnakes, they discussed committing suicide, agreeing to cut each other's wrists.

Coughlin tried to cut Kodikian's left wrist, but "either the knife we were using was too dull or he wasn't pushing as hard as he should have, but it wouldn't break through the skin all the way," Kodikian said.


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