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Coe Set To Die Next Week

The state Supreme Court has set the execution of Robert Glen Coe for Wednesday, April 5.

The high court acted Thursday, one day after U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger cleared the way by lifting an indefinite stay she issued 16 hours before Coe was to be executed on March 23.

"It is hereby ORDERED, ADJUDGED and DECREED by this Court that the Warden of the Riverbend Maximum Security Institution, or his designee, shall execute the sentence of death as provide by law on the 5th day of April, 2000," read the decree. Justice Adopho A. Birch Jr. dissented.

Another death-row inmate, Philip Ray Workman, is scheduled to be executed, also by lethal injection, on April 6 for the killing of a police officer in a robbery attempt. New evidence has surfaced and Workman is seeking an execution delay so that the evidence can be heard in court.

Coe came within 16 hours of being Tennessee's first person executed in 40 years when Trauger indefinitely delayed his death scheduled for March 23 to consider a motion that the state's process for determining mental competency was flawed.

But in her 28-page order Wednesday, Trauger said that Coe and his attorneys had failed to prove that he was too incompetent to be executed.

“Throughout all the testimony given, one fact has been constant: that petitioner realizes he is facing execution and that he knows it is because he has been convicted of murdering a little girl,” the judge said in a written order.

“Although he maintains his innocence, it has been made quite clear to this court that petitioner understands that he was found guilty of the murder and was sentenced to die.”

Trauger said Coe appears to be suffering from "some sort of personality disorder" as diagnosed by a majority of experts that have examined his mental health.

"However, the ultimate question of whether the petitioner is competent to be executed is a question of fact" and Coe's attorneys have not proved his incompetence, she wrote.

Coe's attorneys did not comment immediately on the order.

Sharon Curtis-Flair, a spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, also declined to comment other than to say, "It's up to the Supreme Court to set an execution date."

That court last week denied the state's request to expedite Coe's execution by authorizing it within 24 hours of the lifting of a stay in the case.

Coe, 43, is condemned in the 1979 kidnapping, rape and murder of 8-year-old Cary Ann Medlin of Greenfield, a small community 100 miles north of Memphis.

The child's mother, Charlotte Stout, said Wednesday she was relieved that the way has been cleared again for an execution.

"I can only hope that no more stays will be issued, and this will be over within the week," said Mrs. Stout, who plans to attend the execution.

Trauger did not rule on a second motion from Coe' attorneys that one of Coe's attorneys should be present for the execution.

A bill on the fast track in the Legislature to alleviate Coe's claim that he has a constitutional right to have a lawyer present was derailed Wednesday. The House Judiciary Committee, concerned that changing the death penalty law at this late date would create another avenue of appeal, sent the bill to subcommittee.

Solicitor General Michael Moore said if Trauger decides Coe has a right to have an attorney present, she can order it; she doesn't have to stay the execution again.

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