Fallen Angel

Angela Coffel, the first woman in Missouri deemed a sexually violent predator, is locked up despite overwhelming evidence that she isn't one.

She should have been at high school; instead, 18-year-old Angela Coffel was into her dad's cache of airline-liquor bottles, busy drinking shooters outside her parents' trailer. This wasn't the first time Angela -- the girl nicknamed "Angel" by her grandmother -- had decided to skip, and it wouldn't be the last. Angel had moved back with her parents just a few months earlier, and adjustment to life in Foley, a mere speck on the map 21 miles north of St. Peters, was proving difficult. Her parents were still fighting, and though she'd given up alcohol just before moving back, here she was, getting drunk again.

As another day slipped away from Angel, a neighbor spotted her and asked a favor: "Would you help my old lady clean the house?" Angel agreed, took her liquor bottles over to Lanae Collins' trailer, put them in the freezer and began to help the young mother with housework. Jeff, 11, and Matt, 13 -- two brothers who also lived in the trailer park and were friends of Collins' -- ambled in. When Collins went into the kitchen to make dinner, she left Angel and the boys alone in the living room, watching TV. Angel was still drinking.

"Let's play 'Truth or Dare,'" the boys suggested.

Jennifer Silverberg
Angela Coffel, 25, spends her days cut off from the world -- except for state employees. "They say that staff members can't be your friends, 'cause it's overstepping the boundaries," she says. "So who in the fuck am I supposed to get close to?"
Jennifer Silverberg
Angela Coffel, 25, spends her days cut off from the world -- except for state employees. "They say that staff members can't be your friends, 'cause it's overstepping the boundaries," she says. "So who in the fuck am I supposed to get close to?"

"Have you ever had sex with a man?" one of them asked.

"Yes," Angel answered.

"Have you ever had sex with a woman?"

Again she answered yes.

When they asked whether she'd ever parachuted, Angel demanded another question.

"Have you ever gone out in the street naked?"

"Yes," she said, then elected to answer another truth question. But the boys insisted she was limited to three truth questions and now had to take a dare -- Angel must perform oral sex on them, they said.

After accepting, she fellated Matt for about five seconds but stopped because, she later recounted, "the shit felt nasty." Collins re-entered the room and saw Jeff lying on top of Angel, his pants down. Outraged, Collins told Angel to leave and "never come back," but she didn't call the boys' mother.

Two days later -- on Saturday, Oct. 8, 1994 -- the boys' mother reported the sexual assault to the Lincoln County Sheriff's Department. Deputies investigated and confirmed the incident. They also discovered something Angel already knew -- she was HIV-positive.

On Nov. 10, 1994, Lincoln County Prosecuting Attorney G. John Richards charged Angel with two counts of sodomy. While Angel sat in jail, her family moved back to St. Louis. In May, seven months after Angel took a dare, she pleaded guilty to the charges, and her father posted a $50,000 unsecured bond. She remained free until sentencing but was ordered to stay away from a 16-year-old boy with whom she was having a sexual relationship.

Because Angel didn't have any prior convictions, a presentencing report recommended probation. But when Lincoln County Circuit Judge Ralph Jaynes learned that Angel had contacted the boy -- the boy's uncle sent the judge a letter -- probation was out of the question. The judge was furious, and in March 1996 he slapped her with a five-year prison sentence.

Angel would spend those years calling several prisons home: the Renz Correctional Center, the Chillicothe Correctional Center, the Vandalia Correctional Center. She also racked up 73 conduct violations, most in her first 19 months. Prison officials were particularly upset with such violations as her kissing another female inmate in bed; pressing the front part of her body against a male corrections officer, walking down a hall wearing nothing but a gray state-issue shirt after taking a shower; hitting a wall instead of her cellmate; coming out of her cell with her jumpsuit unzipped, breasts hanging out; and burning herself with a curling iron to cover up a hickey.

While behind bars, Angel was supposed to attend the Missouri Sex Offenders Program. In June 1997, she began the first phase of the program, but her poor reading ability -- she tests at a first-grade level -- made the coursework difficult. Even though men in the sex-offender program with limited reading skills receive remedial help, Angel's lawyers claim that the same assistance wasn't available to her. She was terminated from the first phase of the program during the final session for being 20 minutes late to class, then inexplicably allowed to proceed to the second phase. But three weeks later, Angel quit the program altogether.

According to the "Participation and Examination" report prepared by Sally Taylor, an associate psychologist with the sex-offender program, Angel's participation was "wildly erratic." Angel, Taylor wrote in her report, made a point of describing "her behavior in a graphic and lewd manner presumably with the intent to shock and offend the investigating officers." Angel was disrespectful to group members when she returned late from breaks, Taylor noted, and her daily assignments were "carelessly completed." Angel had the temerity to insist "that she could not spread the HIV virus through her saliva" during oral sex -- a point on which she and Taylor argued. (Another psychologist later would note that Angel, not Taylor, was right on this point.) Taylor concluded her report by saying that Angel was "an extremely high risk to reoffend sexually and engage in other criminal behaviors."

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