Boggs trial details recounted

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On Oct. 21, 1993, two odd-looking strangers turned up in a quiet neighborhood in Steamboat Springs.

One wore a bulky jacket, fake moustache and baseball cap. Her easy walk and physique made it obvious that she was a woman, as witnesses later remembered. The other was a tall, slim man wearing a tan jacket and blue jeans.

The couple's outfits had the look of Halloween costumes, witnesses said; one woman later said that she went inside and locked her door because she thought the couple looked like trouble.

The next day, Doug Boggs walked into his brother's home on West Hillside Court and found his brother's body beaten with a shovel and shot three times.

Gerry Boggs was pronounced dead at the scene. The ensuing investigation turned up two murderers, and the details of their lives and of the case brought international attention.

One of the two, Jill Coit, had been married to Gerry Boggs for less than a year.

Later dubbed the "Black Widow" by the press, Coit had married at least seven men in her life, one of whom had been shot to death, with Coit as the only suspect.

The other person, later convicted as Coit's accomplice, was Michael Backus, her boyfriend at the time.

With their murder convictions and prison sentences, the Boggs murder case was closed 10 years ago.

Two weeks ago, however, the famous case came back into the spotlight when Backus appeared in a Routt County courtroom seeking a retrial and declaring his innocence.

But for Steamboat residents who worked closely to solve or report on the murder, memories of how the case unfolded and how it startled the quiet ski town never faded.

And for friends of Gerry Boggs, the loss of a man who was known for his kindness, easy-going demeanor and intelligence is still a tragedy.

The Events

J.D. Hays, director of public safety for the Steamboat Springs Police Department, was police captain at the time of the murder. He was sitting in his office in 1993 when his police radio crackled and a dispatcher reported that a man was down.

Boggs had been discovered dead in his home.

"It is out of the ordinary because we don't have this kind of serious crime often," Hays said. "There's just a sense of 'We need to pull together. ... We need to find the person who did this.'"

Because of Steamboat's small size, serious crimes tend to touch most members of the community, Hays said.

"It's like somebody has perpetrated this crime in your family, and we all take it very seriously," he said.

An investigation began immediately. Steamboat detectives and investigators from the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began taking photos, collecting evidence and recording details that could be important.

One of the first things they did was to walk the streets and talk to people.

Detective Bob DelValle was one of the investigators working on the case. He talked with one of Boggs' neighbors who said she had seen a suspicious-looking man and woman around the time of the murder. That was one key piece of evidence that later came up at Coit and Backus' trial.

In the beginning, investigators were intent on not singling out one suspect right away, DelValle said. Narrowing the focus too early could make it possible to miss the real guilty party.

But in the Boggs murder, each piece of evidence collected seemed to point to two people.

"Initially, we tried not to focus," DelValle said. "And things just kind of kept leading us back to Coit and Backus."

As in most murder cases, there was never a "smoking gun" in the Boggs murder, DelValle said. But there were dozens of pieces of circumstantial evidence.

According to court files, Coit asked at least one person to murder Boggs for money and also told her son, Seth Coit, that she was going to kill Boggs and asked for advice on how to do it.

At trial, Seth Coit testified that on Oct. 21, his mother called him and said, "Hey, baby, it's done and it's messy."

According to court files, Backus had talked with a friend and co-worker, Troy Giffon, about hiring someone to murder Boggs and offered Giffon first $3,500 and then $7,500 to commit the murder. Days after the murder, Backus showed up to work with new boots.

Coit and Backus shared an alibi for the time of the murder, saying they were camping in Kelly Flats in the Poudre Canyon west of Fort Collins.

Each piece of evidence alone couldn't necessarily convict Coit and Backus, but together they painted a picture clear enough for the jury that heard the case to hand down two life sentences for first-degree murder.

"I call it the pebbles of a case that kind of weigh in favor of a guilty verdict," DelValle said. "(We) gather all these little pebbles and we put them on the scale of justice. And hopefully they tip in favor of a guilty verdict."

While DelValle was working on the case under lead investigator Rick Crotz, he said he and other detectives threw themselves into it.

"You go to bed thinking about it, you wake up thinking about it, and all day long you're thinking about it," he said. "It's the ultimate type of investigation because so much is at stake. You represent the dead victim."

Coit and Backus are in Colorado prisons.

Coit was serving time in Cañon City at the state prison but was transferred to Denver Women's Correctional Facility on Oct. 11, 2001, according to Linda Carroll, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Backus has been at the Limon Correctional Facility for the past six years.

Coit and Backus filed appeals soon after they were sentenced, and both appeals were denied in the winter of 1997-98.

Backus' reappeared in Routt County recently under a state law that enables people who are convicted 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, which is the claim that Backus made in his recent petition.

Judge Robert Brown heard the case and will make a decision by November.

From a reporter's eyes

Brad Bolchunos was in his third year at the Steamboat Pilot & Today when the murder took place. He remembers hearing the death reported on police radios and said he immediately began to investigate.

Details of the case weren't released right away, but Bolchunos said he had the sense that something serious was taking place.

"It's one of those things where you don't realize the magnitude of it right away, and yet at the same time, you know that something big is happening," he said.

As the case unfolded, it became stranger and stranger, Bolchunos said.

Details of Coit's past, including the long list of husbands and of previous deceits, began to surface.

"(There were) bizarre things that we started hearing about right away but that really came to light later on in the courtroom," Bolchunos said, such as reports of Coit driving around town in the days surrounding the murder wearing a fake moustache.

"It all seemed really surreal to me. ... It just kept getting bigger and bigger. If somebody were telling me this and it wasn't real, I'd be saying, 'That's a pretty far-fetched movie plot.'"

Like investigators, Bolchunos said that while he was reporting on the murder, he tried not to jump to conclusions about what had happened.

But watching Coit and Backus in court at their preliminary hearings, he said he couldn't help but think about what might be going through their heads.

He also said he was surprised to see Coit in person and find that a normal-size, middle-aged woman had committed a crime that was receiving attention from newspapers, tabloid TV shows and book writers around the world.

"All this was about this kind of small woman who maybe has this crafty look about her," he said. "That might be the person you see walking down the street."

Amid the attention and excitement surrounding the case, there also was a sense of tragedy.

"We were more aware of that sort of pervading sadness about what had happened to Gerry Boggs and the Boggs family," Bolchunos said, referring to how local reporters felt compared with those from other cities or states. "Apart from all this strangeness ... it's more keenly felt that, 'Oh, that man ran the hardware store, how sad that he thought he met this woman who beguiled him.' And tragically, she did."

Friends' feelings

People who knew Boggs remember him for being smart, caring, patient, interested in others. His brother, Doug Boggs, could not make comments because of Backus' pending legal decision.

Boggs was born in 1941 and grew up in Steamboat, graduating from high school in 1959. His family's business, Boggs Hardware, which closed earlier this year, had been open in downtown Steamboat since 1939.

Boggs went to the University of Colorado, studied at military intelligence school and served in Vietnam from 1965 to 1967, for which he was awarded a Bronze Star.

Upon returning to Steamboat, he worked in his family's store and continued his education, taking pilot classes and other classes and spending time scuba diving and taking undersea and outdoor photographs.

Lupe Arroyo, who worked with Boggs on a political campaign for a Steamboat resident, said Boggs was kind to every person he came across.

"He just got along well with everybody. He talked to everybody. ... He listened to them," Arroyo said.

In many ways, Arroyo said, Boggs represented the heart of Steamboat.

"If you'd seen Boggs, you would have seen Steamboat," Arroyo said.

Boggs met Coit in 1990, when she was in Steamboat tending to her downtown bed and breakfast. They married in April 1991, but Boggs had the marriage annulled that December after finding out she was still married to another man.

Boggs sued Coit as well, alleging that she lied about giving birth to his daughter. The suit was scheduled to go to trial five days after he was killed.

Boggs was not duped by Coit in an intellectual sense, said Thaine Gilliland, a longtime friend of Boggs.

"People need to understand that it was not the education or the intelligence part that got him in trouble," Gilliland said. "It was the emotional part."

Boggs had been a lifetime bachelor before he met Coit.

Gilliland said Boggs read ravenously, even books that most people have trouble getting through 10 pages of, Gilliland said.

"He was the good old boy, and yet he could sit down and have a conversation with just about anyone and discuss (anything) very intelligently," he said. "There aren't that many people that could do that.

"He was a real person -- there was no pretense about Gerry Boggs. What you saw was what you get, and that's kind of a unique trait you don't find much anymore."

Gilliland said he deeply misses Boggs.

"He was a really bright, personable person," Gilliland said. "We're all a little poorer for him being gone."

Boggs' obituary, which was printed in the Oct. 28, 1993, issue of the Steamboat Pilot, said that "His love of his friends and family was unconditional and he was everyone's 'Uncle Gerry.'"

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