Backus’ ’95 lawyer testifies
Attorney says his client insisted on protecting Coit
September 10, 2003
Steamboat Springs — The attorney who represented convicted murderer Michael Backus in his 1995 trial was called to the stand Wednesday and questioned about his representation of Backus.
Backus is serving a life sentence for the 1993 murder of Steamboat Springs businessman Gerald Boggs and is in court seeking to have his sentence set aside. He is arguing that his defense counsel during the original trial was ineffective.
Leonard Davies, the attorney who represented Backus in 1995, was questioned through the morning and much of the afternoon.
To get an appeal, Backus has to show that Davies provided deficient counsel that prejudiced the jury and resulted in an unfair ruling.
In May 1995, Backus and his then-girlfriend 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.
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On Wednesday, Backus’ attorney in his current case, Nancy Holton, suggested through her questioning of Davies that he was not effective for reasons including that he did not spend enough time discussing the case with Backus and that he did not pursue the best strategy in the case.
Holton went through jail records at length to suggest Davies visited Backus only four to six times in jail, as opposed to the 20 to 30 times that Davies said he estimated.
Assistant District Attorney Kerry St. James later suggested that those same records show at least 27 visits by attorneys.
Holton also argued that Davies should have taken an antagonistic defense strategy against Coit, which would separate Backus from Coit and could make jurors more sympathetic to Backus.
When questioned whether he considered taking an antagonistic strategy, Davies said that he had but that Backus insisted that nothing be said to hurt Coit.
“My perception of Ms. Coit was being a singularly evil and despicable person who was trying to control Mr. Backus,” Davies said. “I was doing my best to sway him” from using a defense that was not adversarial toward her, he said.
“He made it clear to me over and over in a forceful way that he… was not going to allow me to present any (evidence) that suggested that she was the guilty party.”
In her closing argument, Holton said that there was a long list of instances that showed Davies was 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.”
St. James countered that there is not enough evidence to fulfill the rule under which Backus is trying to get an appeal.
To show that Davies provided deficient counsel, St. James said that it would have to be found that Davies “stopped functioning,” which St. James said the court could not do.
“The trial record is replete, judge, with examples of Mr. Davies aggressively representing his client,” St. James said.
St. James also said there was no evidence that the jury was prejudiced because of a deficiency in Davies’ counsel.
“This defendant was entitled to a fair trial — not a perfect trial,” St. James said. “A view of the entire trial … will support that he received a fair trial.”
Final rebuttals to closing arguments will be presented from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. today at the Routt County Courthouse.