For eight years, accused child rapist Lucas Coe fended off a bevy of criminal charges that until today had little chance of keeping him behind bars.
There was a 2002 aggravated assault in Harris County, a DWI conviction that left him without a driver's license, a Montgomery County assault charge, the two times he was jailed for probation violations and in 2007, a Montgomery County child abuse charge that even now has yet to go to trial.
Monday, though, he is on trial — this time charged with sexually assaulting 4-year-old Emma Thompson who died in June 2009, the result of multiple unexplained injuries. Coe, 28, is not charged in her death.
Emma's mother, former registered nurse Abigail Young, already is in prison. A jury in July convicted her of "reckless" injury to a child. Young, who according to court testimony, left Emma's father for her handyman paramour Coe, was sentenced to 20 years in prison and is eligible for parole in five years.
Emma was declared dead at Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Hospital the night of June 27, 2009. Her body was badly bruised, her skull fractured and her vagina bore a large tear, indicating sexual assault.
That night, Young came home to find her daughter, who had been left with Coe, nearly unconscious. She carried Emma from the house to the car to take her to the hospital, claiming then and in testimony later that she believed her daughter to be the victim of a fall in the bathroom.
But instead of waiting with Emma's two older sisters for word from the hospital, witnesses say Coe ran to a neighbor, asking her to watch the girls. He also asked the neighbor to take him and his own young daughter to a nearby Jack-in-the-Box where his sister, who lived 20 miles away, was going to pick them up.
Coe's trial will focus at least in part on his actions in the hours before and immediately after Emma's death.
That's because Coe wasn't supposed to be with his daughter - or any child for that matter. An abuse allegation involving another girlfriend's child had prompted Texas Child Protective Services to bar him from unsupervised visits with his daughter.
Witnesses testifying in Young's court proceedings claimed Coe was worried that authorities might find out his daughter was with him.
It is unclear how prosectors will introduce his rapid exit from the scene without making mention of his earlier problems with CPS, which according to pretrial rulings, is not to be discussed during the trial.
The state's case also will focus on Emma's vaginal tear and the fact that Young, Coe and Emma had genital herpes, a sexually transmitted disease.
Harris County Assistant District Attorney Colleen Barnett said that based on the evidence, prosecutors decided a charge of super-aggravated sexual assault of a child under the age of 6 was the best case to pursue against Coe. If jurors convict him, she added, there's no parole. "So whatever he gets, he serves," she said. But that's if he is convicted.
Coe's defense attorney William Van Buren insists there was no sexual assault of Emma. The vaginal tear, Van Buren says, could have been caused by anything. "The bottom line is ... there is no direct evidence," Van Buren said, adding that Coe's DNA was not found on the little girl. "There could be other ways for vaginal tears to occur, other possibilities."
He also points to the fact that nine days before Emma died, CPS workers asked Young to take the girl to Texas Children's Hospital after they learned she had tested positive for genital herpes. Doctors there found no signs of sexual abuse.
In rare cases, genital herpes can be spread in a non-sexual manner. Because of that and the fact Young said there was no man in her house who would have had access to Emma, CPS closed the case.
"We'll let the evidence speak for itself," said prosecutor Barnett.
Van Buren asserts that Coe could have left quickly after Emma was taken to the hospital for a number of reasons - none having to do with sexual assault. 'Emotion and not facts'
Coe's attorneys will try to keep hundreds of Emma's autopsy photos from being seen by the jurors.
Defense attorney Rick DeToto said prosecutors hope to convince jurors of Coe's guilt with hundreds of autopsy photos that have nothing to do with Emma's sexual assault. "I think they're trying to overwhelm a potential juror with emotion and not facts," he said. "There's no DNA on Emma. It's a situation where they're saying something bad happens and he was there."
Barnett is confident she can prove Coe is guilty.
"Yes, I believe he's guilty and yes, I believe I can prove it beyond a reasonable doubt," she said.
Jury selection is scheduled to start Monday
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