Monday, January 11, 2010

Wood River, IL: NEW: Wood River man gets 30 years in wife's murder

2010-01-11 10:28:46

A Wood River man who shot his wife in the back, then told police he thought she was a burglar, pleaded guilty today to a reduced charge and was sentenced to 30 years in prison.

Vernon L. Coates, 55, of Wood River showed little emotion as he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in the death of his wife, Audrey, on Sept. 3, 2008.

Second-degree murder typically does not carry such a heavy penalty, but this sentence was enhanced. Evidence would have shown that the woman had bruises and cuts on her body, lead prosecutor Mike Stewart said.

The prosecution team of Stewart and Assistant State's Attorney Jennifer Vucich opted not to take the case to a trial, in part because they probably could not have gotten a tougher sentence that what they did through plea bargaining. Coates did not have any useable prior criminal record that would have added to the sentence, Stewart said.

The victim's family was present in Madison County Circuit Court, but declined to comment.


EARLIER STORY (Sept. 5, 2008) ...

Husband charged in wife's killing


WOOD RIVER - A man who claimed to have shot his wife thinking she was a burglar now stands charged with first-degree murder in her death.

Vernon L. Coates, 54, was being held on $1 million bond in the death of his wife Audrey Coates, 45. He had been held since Wednesday night at the Wood River jail but was to be transferred to the Madison County lockup, authorities said Friday.

Coates called 911 around 10:23 p.m. Wednesday, telling police he had shot his wife thinking she was a burglar, at the home they shared in the 200 block of Central Avenue. However, the story quickly unraveled, police said, when they found the victim in her bed, dressed in a nightgown, shot one time in the back.

The charge states that he intentionally shot his wife using a .22-caliber revolver.

"He said it was an accident and today he's charged with first-degree murder," Deputy Chief Otis Steward said. The charge carries a penalty of 20 to 60 years in prison.

Police aren't commenting on a motive but did say they'd been called to the home on previous disturbance calls.

Asked about Coates' demeanor when police arrived, Steward said: "He was upset."

Family members are also upset "and rightfully so," he added.

Vernon Coates had two children from a previous marriage and his wife had four children previously, but they had none together.

Two family members said Friday that the couple endured an often-abusive relationship.

The woman's son, Forrest Needs, said he received a call from his mother at 9 p.m. on the night of her death and was told she had been quarreling with her husband, who is his stepfather. He said his stepfather was an alcoholic and had been drinking heavily that evening.

Needs, quoting what his mother had told him, said his stepfather had purchased a 30-pack of beer and drank all but about three that day.

Steward, asked if the suspect had been drinking, said, "It appears that he had. There was alcohol on his breath."

Needs, who was at the home of his girlfriend about a block and a half away, lived at the Coates' home. He said he rushed to the scene after receiving a call from a Coates' neighbor.

The victim's niece, Audrey Wallace of Fidelity, said the couple had been quarrelling over drugs, with Coates wanting his wife to "go buy him pot," which she was against doing.

Wallace said there was blood on the bedclothes but no sign of blood anywhere else in the home. Police would not say if the victim was shot in the bedroom.

Police would say little about evidence in the home beyond having found the woman in her bed.

Although two of Audrey Coates' children lived in the home, police do not think anyone else was in the home at the time of the shooting.

Audrey Coates was treated by paramedics with the Wood River Police Department and Alton Memorial Ambulance Co. and then taken to Alton Memorial Hospital where an emergency room physician pronounced her dead at 10:53 p.m., Police Chief William Webber said.

The Madison County Coroner's Office referred all comment to the Police Department.

Police believe that Vernon Coates was unemployed. His wife worked as a therapist at Eldercare Nursing home in Alton.

"Audrey was a very good person, a very good friend. But she was a private person, she didn't let on a lot," said one friend, who asked not to be named.

Vernon Coates had been charged with two different offenses previously, Steward said. without giving details. He said the investigation continues.

Needs said Audrey and Vernon Coates had lived together since 1991 but were married in 2001. Coates was known as Vernon Coates III and had a son, Vernon L. Coates IV, who has had many run-ins with the law, a family member said.

Wood River has gone a long time without a homicide - the last were in 2004, when there were four.

"We hope this is not the start of something else (a trend)," Steward said.

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