Backus' request denied

Life sentence will stand for man convicted in Boggs murder

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Efforts by a man convicted of murder to have his life sentence overturned were denied Tuesday.

Michael Backus is serving a life sentence for the 1993 murder of Steamboat Springs businessman Gerald Boggs. He sought to appeal his sentence by showing, in a September evidentiary hearing, that his original defense counsel was ineffective.

Judge Robert Brown, who presided over the hearing in Routt County District Court, ordered this week that Backus' motion be denied.

In May 1995, Backus and his girlfriend at the time, Jill Coit, were convicted of first-degree murder and were sentenced to life without parole for killing Boggs, who had an annulled marriage with Coit at the time of his death.

Coit had been married to at least seven other men and was a prime suspect in the 1972 shooting death of one husband, William C. Coit, in Houston. The Boggs murder was dubbed the "Black Widow case" because of Coit's history.

Brown's order outlined and discussed the evidence presented by Backus' attorney to show that Backus' original attorney, Leonard Davies, was ineffective.

Those allegations included that Davies did not fully investigate the facts of the case, that he did not present proper reasons for separating Backus' trial from Coit's trial, and that he didn't present important evidence about Backus' alibi and character.

Backus' legal action was taken under a state law that allows convicted people to request a new trial or a different sentencing. One routine claim made under this law is that the convicted person's lawyer was ineffective.

According to the law, Brown had to find not only that Davies' counsel was ineffective but also that the ineffectiveness resulted in prejudice during the trial.

Brown found that Davies' counsel was effective in all but several instances, such as some of his pretrial investigations, his failure to review the prosecution's physical evidence before the trial, and his inattention during some testimony.

Brown's order said that he could not -- except in flagrant instances -- rule that the ineffectiveness resulted in prejudice.

"There is not a reasonable probability that, but for Davies' unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been different," Brown's order said.

During closing arguments in September, Nancy Holton, the attorney representing Backus, said there was a long list of instances that showed Davies' deficient counsel.

"It just goes on and on, what wasn't done in preparation for the case," Holton said.

"If Mr. Backus had been given good counsel ... we believe the outcome would have been different."

Deputy District Attorney Kerry St. James, who appeared for the people, countered in his closing argument that Backus did receive fair counsel.

"This defendant was entitled to a fair trial -- not a perfect trial," he said. "A view of the entire trial ... will support that he received a fair trial."

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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