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.

But the tests for men don't apply to women, Scott says, and the number of female sexual offenders and reoffenders in the country is small compared with the number of men. In one study, fewer than 3 percent of the female sex offenders reoffended, and 0 percent were found to have reoffended in another study. But the lack of large-scale studies makes it difficult to know what a woman's baseline offense rate is, other than to say it is probably extremely low.

After evaluating Angel, Scott wrote in his report that Angel suffers from the mental abnormality of antisocial personality disorder, which is characterized as a "marked disregard for and violation of the right of others," but says that it doesn't relate to her sexual behavior. Instead, he reported, her sexual promiscuity was related to another mental abnormality, borderline-personality disorder. But there is no relationship between sexual promiscuity and sexually violent behavior, he noted in the report to the court. And he now says that the sexual-sadism diagnosis by the Department of Corrections was flat-out wrong: "It doesn't even come in the ballpark."

Scott indicated in the report that because of her childhood sexual abuse, as well as her highly chaotic and abusive home life, Angel uses sex as a way to gain acceptance and affection. However, he noted that the existing research indicates that the reoffense rate for women is extremely low; performing oral sex on the two brothers was her only sexually related illegal act; and Angel doesn't suffer from paraphilia, in which a person is sexually aroused by nonconsenting or nonhuman partners. Scott concluded that Angel's personality disorder doesn't make it "more likely than not" that she will commit sexually violent predator acts in the future.

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?"

The prosecutors, however, believed that Scott, the top forensic expert at the state's largest mental-health facility, didn't have enough "expertise and knowledge" and decided to get yet another opinion. "The consequences in our mind are so great, if we make a mistake, that we want to be sure," assistant attorney general Ted Bruce told the Riverfront Times.

The war of the experts started. The attorney general's office hired two experts, and the public defender's office also used two, including Dr. Dean. For all four experts' opinions, Missouri taxpayers shelled out $20,000.

The attorney general's office first hired Dr. Patricia Davin from Nevada. Dr. Davin's main qualification appears to have been the fact that she authored a book, called Female Sexual Abusers: Three Views, which was published in 1999 by the Safer Society Foundation. Davin broke female sex offenders into three categories: women who commit sex crimes with a male partner, such as a boyfriend or husband; the "Mrs. Robinson" type, older women who prey on young males; and women who molest boys. According to Davin, Angel falls into the third category. Although the state wanted Davin to examine Angel, Angel's lawyers thwarted the attempt when they discovered that Davin wasn't a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. Yet Judge Flynn still allowed her to testify at trial that Angel is a sexually violent predator.

The attorney general's office also hired Dr. Amy Phenix, a California psychologist who helped with the development of the Static 99 and the coding rules for the RRASOR. Phenix has testified in a number of cases across the country and is well known for opposing "clinical judgment" in sexually violent predator evaluations on the basis that chance is just as accurate a predictor. Phenix examined Angel, then concluded that Angel suffers from borderline-personality disorder: Angel uses sex for affection and, because she is immature for her age, she'll seek out boys for sex. Phenix refused to comment for this story.

Ruess and Selig, the defense lawyers, hired Dr. Lynn Maskel, a forensic psychiatrist from Wisconsin. Maskel interviewed Angel and reviewed her records. She agreed with the diagnosis of borderline-personality disorder, noting that Angel has "specific impairments of instability of interpersonal relationships, self-image and ... marked impulsivity." But she concluded that Angel doesn't suffer from deviant sexual arousal, paraphilia or pedophilia, and she dismissed the initial sexual-sadism diagnosis as "far off the mark." Maskel also questioned Phenix's use of a risk-factor list developed from male-offender research, saying there "is no significant body of literature to substantiate that female sex offenders are similar to male sex offenders." And she noted that the "very small number of female sex offenders compared to males is at least a crude indication that gender of the offender confounds the situation in some dramatic fashion." Noting that just three women in the country are confined under sexually violent predator laws, Maskel concluded there might be a reason other than Angel's behavior driving the state's push to label her a sexually violent predator: "There appears to be one piece of data that is driving this, which is the fact that Ms. Coffel has a positive HIV status."

Ted Bruce, the state prosecutor, concedes that having sex with someone while HIV-positive "is not a sexually violent offense as defined by Missouri law." Then he adds, "She just appeared to be someone who needed affirmation in her life through sexual relations.... It was our concern and a concern of our experts that she would engage in sexual relations with minors, and that, by definition, is a sexually violent offense."

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