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.

Meanwhile, her life is controlled in the prisonlike environment of Hoctor, even though Marty Bellew-Smith, the director of the sexually violent predator program -- which the department renamed the Missouri Sexual Offender Treatment Center -- insists it isn't a prison. Yet when a Riverfront Timeswriter and photographer arrive to take Angel's picture for this story, they are met in the front of the building by a guard carrying a gun, Bellew-Smith and Englehart. All three must be present at all times, and there are to be no photos of the building's interior, no pictures of Angel's bedroom and no pictures of staff, with just one photo of Angel against a plain backdrop from the shoulders up, even though Angel has requested no full-face photos. An hour of wrangling ensues, during which a phone call is placed to Gowdy, and finally the director relents. During the photo shoot, Bellew-Smith complains to the RFT photographer that Angel looks "too depressed" in the pictures.

She is depressed, her lawyers say. Angel tells the RFT, "They say that staff members can't be your friends, 'cause it's overstepping the boundaries. So who in the fuck am I supposed to get close to?"

Ruess and Selig are clearly concerned about Angel's living conditions. "For anyone with a borderline-personality disorder, it is horrible" to live in solitary confinement, Ruess says.

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?"

Ruess often questions her trial strategy; maybe they should have opted for a jury, or perhaps they should have asked for a new judge when Flynn disclosed his earlier relationship with Ted Bruce. Angel's case, Ruess says, is a "career-ender."

"It is hard to see something really wrong happening and not be able to fix it," she explains. She's grown attached to Angel, and when Judge Flynn announced his decision, Ruess cried with her client. Ruess wonders whether she can handle the emotional strain of trying Angel's case again, but in the next breath she decides that reason is "selfish."

"I'm not the one locked up. I'll get her out if it's the last thing I do," Ruess vows. With Selig as the good cop and Ruess as the bad cop, they struggle with the mental-health department, chiding them over Angel's treatment and solitary conditions. And they continue plotting trial strategy and giving assistance to another public defender in the appellate division who is appealing Flynn's ruling.

But while her lawyers work on the outside, Angel's still locked in her own wing, fixated on Flynn's August review. When asked what she'd tell the judge if she could speak directly to him, Angel pauses for a moment and hangs her head, and as tears fall on the gray linoleum tile, she simply says, "Give me a second chance."

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