Backus says he's innocent

Murderer of Gerald Boggs testifies in court for first time

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— Michael Backus, who is serving a life sentence for the 1993 murder of Steamboat Springs businessman Gerald Boggs, spoke in court for the first time Tuesday and said that he is innocent.

When asked two separate times by his attorney, Nancy Holton, if he killed Boggs, Backus replied, "No, I did not," both times.

Backus is in court seeking to have his sentence set aside under the argument that his defense counsel was ineffective. Leonard Davies represented Backus in the original trial.

In that trial, which ended in 1995, Backus never took the stand to testify.

The audience at Tuesday's trial included Boggs' brother, Doug Boggs.

The scene Tuesday was starkly different from the 1995 trial, which received attention from newspapers and television stations across the nation and world.

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 was dubbed "the Black Widow" by the media because she had been married to at least seven other men and was a prime suspect in the shooting death of one husband, William C. Coit, in Houston in 1972.

On Tuesday, Backus said he had been married to five women before he met Coit in December 1992.

He said that Coit was a private person who didn't share a lot of her past and said that she had deceived him. Learning about Coit's background through the trial was difficult, Backus said.

"As you're hearing these things, what's going through you're mind?" Holton asked, referring to the 1995 trial.

"It's driving me crazy," Backus said.

When Holton asked why, Backus started to cry.

"I was just wondering how I could be fooled," he answered.

During their original trial, Backus and Coit shared an alibi, that they were camping together in Kelly Flats for two days at the time of the murder.

Although Backus maintained that he was camping with Coit, he said he now believes that Coit could have been involved in the murder.

Holton asked Backus if, given all of the information he now knows, he thought that Coit could have been involved. Backus answered, "Yes, I do. ... I believe that she must have hired somebody to do that or hired somebody to help her."

In his cross-examination, Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James asked Backus about his decision not to testify in the original trial. St. James also asked Backus why he bought new boots and cleaned his leather jacket after Boggs' death.

"New boots, a new tent, and immediately after Mr. Boggs is killed, you're taking a leather jacket to have it cleaned," St. James said. He then questioned the validity of Backus' alibi.

"Other than Ms. Coit, there is not a single other person that is alive today that can corroborate the story that you were camping at Kelly Flats," St. James said.

St. James also recounted testimony that Coit was seen dressed like a male hobo in Steamboat Springs on the night of Boggs' murder, and that a tall, slim man was with her.

He suggested that it would have been possible for Backus and Coit to set up a camp in Kelly Flats on Oct. 20, 1993, drive back to Steamboat Springs on Oct. 21, 1993, and murder Boggs, and then return to their camp and continue with their trip.

Also on Tuesday, Judge Robert Brown heard testimony from Joseph Saint-Veltri, who represented Coit during the original trial. Saint-Veltri said that the atmosphere of the courtroom during that trial was adversarial toward the defense and that Backus' attorney at the time tried to separate his client from Coit.

"This was a trial that had a lot of complications as a joint (trial) because the vast majority of evidence we heard was evidence related to my client," Saint-Veltri said.

"I think Mr. Backus may have had ineffective assistance of counsel. I don't attribute this to Mr. Davies" but to the trial, he said.

Another witness called by the defense was Gary Bolton, a friend of Backus', who testified that Backus was a "truthful" and "nonviolent" person. Bolton said that he never had a chance during the trial to answer questions about Backus' character.

After Backus testified, the court recessed for the day. The trial will continued at 8:30 a.m. today. It is likely that attorneys will give closing arguments today, but Brown said he probably would not make a decision until November.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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