Coffman Is Sentenced to Life Without Parole : Courts: An emotional judge says she hopes the penalty for the slaying of a Huntington Beach woman will withstand challenges.


Already facing the death penalty for one murder, Cynthia Lynn Coffman was sentenced Friday to spend the rest of her life in prison without the possibility of parole for a slaying involving a Huntington Beach teen-ager.

"I have never tried a case in my courtroom where the killing was so debased, so wanton, so senseless, so brutal and so avoidable," said Orange County Superior Court Judge Jean Rheinheimer after she pronounced the sentence.

"It is my hope that the conviction of the jury in this case withstands any and all appellate challenges because it is my belief . . . that you should never return to society," the visibly emotional judge said.

Last June, a jury convicted the 30-year-old former cocktail waitress from St. Louis of strangling Lynel Murray, as well as robbing and abducting the 19-year-old college student from a dry cleaner's where she had been working on Nov. 12, 1986.

In the penalty part of the trial, the jury spared Coffman a second death sentence, instead recommending that the judge order her to a life term without the possibility of parole.

Rheinheimer followed the jury's recommendation and tacked on an additional 10 years and eight months for the robbery, burglary and kidnaping convictions. Coffman was acquitted of rape.

According to prosecutors, Coffman and her then-boyfriend, James Gregory Marlow, killed Murray five days after they had murdered another woman in San Bernardino. That other woman, Corinna D. Novis, 20, of Redlands, was abducted from a shopping mall, raped and then strangled to death, much as Murray had been.

Coffman and Marlow were both sentence to die in the gas chamber for killing Novis. Unlike Coffman, however, Marlow, 36, was given a second death sentence May 8 for the Murray killing after a separate trial. He was convicted of rape in the Murray case.

The couple also had allegedly killed a Kentucky man for $5,000 four months before their Southern California slayings, prosecutors said. But because of the two murder convictions in this state, the Kentucky murder charge will most likely be dropped.

During the Murray murder trial, which began in May, Coffman's attorney acknowledged that his client was involved in the slayings. He, however, argued that she was a drug abuser who was forced to participate in the crimes by Marlow, an ex-convict nicknamed "Folsom Wolf."

Coffman, who had tattooed "Property of Folsom Wolf" on her buttocks, testified that she was obsessively in love with Marlow, even though she also feared him.

Deputy Public Defender Leonard Gumlia said his client was a "battered woman" who was dominated by Marlow. He asked the judge to sentence Coffman to 25 years to life in prison because she played a "lesser" role in the murders.

Before being sentenced Friday, Coffman briefly addressed the judge and thanked the court staff for their kindness and also asked the victim's family for forgiveness.

"I just hope that one day the Murrays forgive me," she said in a soft voice.

After the hearing, Murray's parents came out of the courtroom, "relieved" that the long ordeal was over.

Murray's father, Donald, said: "It's been six years--the pain will start subsiding now, but the loss is never going to be recoverable."

He said that the family was "disappointed, but not devastated" that Coffman was not given the death penalty for killing his daughter.

"We can start to put this behind us and start remembering the things we like about (Lynel) and not about the things that happened to her," he said.

Nancy Murray, the victim's mother, said she was pleased to hear the judge's comments.

"You ever want to hug a judge? That's how I feel," she said.

On Coffman's plea for forgiveness, Nancy Murray said: "It's not in my heart yet, but it doesn't mean it won't be."

Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Gannon said the murder was "probably one of the most aggravated, horrendous cases that I've come in contact with, let alone prosecuted.

"It appears fairly clear now that Cynthia Coffman is either going to die in the gas chamber . . . or she is going to die in prison," he said.

Gumlia said that Coffman's chance of winning an appeal on the San Bernardino death sentence was helped by the fact that the Orange County jury recommended only life without parole. In the San Bernardino trial, Marlow and Coffman were tried together.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World