Going Ape

Suzy the Chimp is dead, her teenage killer faces charges and there's bad blood all around

A .22 rifle is propped in the corner, just inside the side door. The shotgun Coats used to kill Suzy is gone, however, confiscated by the sheriff. The Caseys say they've been told that Coats "has a whole closet full of guns." Since Suzy's death, the Caseys have been told a lot of things about Coats by well-meaning busybodies. One man complained that Coats comes over and gets his dog drunk. A teenager said he once saw him kick a kitten like a football. A woman said she knew a man who picked up Coats hitchhiking and the young man asked him whether he had any "tweak," meaning methamphetamine. The Caseys don't have any compunctions about spreading these tales. In fact, they have included these choice anecdotes and "signed statements" -- with the names scratched out -- in the 12-page collection of news clips, reports and commentary faxed to the Riverfront Times. This, in turn, is part of a larger volume, a neatly kept ring binder titled "Suzy's Murder -- Confidential," featuring 8-by-10 full-color necropsy photos of the late Suzy.

Coats' notoriety as a "monkey murderer" has haunted him from the start. He was suspended from school for two days "because I cussed in school. It was in child-development class," he clarifies, "and we had ropes that we were using in practicing playing with little kids. They said, 'The name of the rope is Sally,' or something like that, and a kid said, 'My rope is Suzy. Don't kill it, Jason.' That just kind of made me mad. I was having a bad day anyway, so I called him an asshole."

He ran into a lot of flack like that at first. "The first three days after it happened, all I heard the five minutes between classes was 'monkey murderer' -- I'm talking nonstop, every two steps," he says. "Then one day, this substitute teacher was doing roll call. She comes to 'Jason Coats.' I go, 'Here.' And she looks at me and goes, 'You're the monkey murderer?' I go, 'Yeah, I'm the monkey murderer.' Things like that. Now they put my name and face out there on the news. I'll be walking around and I notice people looking at me, pointing at me."

Jason Coats: "We were, like, 'Wow! There's monkeys in the driveway!"
Jennifer Silverberg
Jason Coats: "We were, like, 'Wow! There's monkeys in the driveway!"

Even the courts are not a haven from ridicule. When Coats and attorney Wright went to court June 12 for his arraignment, they were met by a small group of Casey supporters wearing Suzy T-shirts. Mike Casey says he hopes to have a much bigger showing for the July 27 preliminary hearing.

After his appearance and while Wright was off on other business, a radio reporter shoved a microphone in Coats' face. The following was broadcast: 'You seem to think this is funny. What's so funny? Do you like guns? Do you have anything to say?' Coats, ambushed, says, 'No comment." The reporter continues with rapid-fire questions. He ends his report with: "Just so you know, we'll be back." Coats, however, says the reporter's last remark, not aired, was: "Are you going to shoot me, too?"

For his part, Coats adopts a fatalistic attitude over the incident.

"It was something that happened," he reflects. "I can't take it back, can't change it. I think they ought to just let it go." It's a weekday afternoon, and Coats, dressed in blue jeans and New York Yankees T-shirt, is sitting at the kitchen table, trying to explain his feelings. "I understand about their loss," he continues. "They've had the monkey for 17 years, whatever, but it was [Connie Casey's] fault they got out in the first place. It was their chimpanzee got loose, came after us. OK, someone shot her chimpanzee. It was either that or I thought I was gonna get hurt. It had to be done. I mean, this is my house. I'm trying to get in my house safely, and I should be able to do that. What if my mom would've come home by herself with a handful of groceries? The kids around the neighborhood, what if one of them got hurt? Or my dog? There's a lot of different scenarios that could've happened where people get hurt, but instead the monkey gets shot and I'm the bad guy."

Presenting his defense, Coats becomes passionate, ebullient. What if the attackers had been pit bulls instead of chimps? he wonders: "Everybody would go, 'Damn right! I'd a shot it, too.' But since it's a chimpanzee and everybody likes chimpanzees -- the ones they see in the zoo -- they're, like, 'Oh, it's a little harmless chimp.'

"Well, it's nothing like that. It's a big, vicious, smart, strong, fast animal that can't be controlled."

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