OTTUMWA — An Ottumwan who was convicted of murder as a teen has been granted parole.
The Iowa Board of Parole held a hearing Wednesday regarding Michael Patrick Leon Coffman. Coffman was convicted of first-degree murder in the July 26, 1994, killing of Jeremy Allen at Ottumwa High School. Coffman was 16 at the time.
His initial sentence was life in prison without the possibility of parole, mandatory for first-degree murder convictions. However, in February 2017, his sentence was changed by the court to allow for the possibility of parole.
A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling facilitated the change. Under the new precedent, life sentences without parole were deemed illegal for juveniles. A separate 2016 ruling allowed that precedent to be applied to cases that came before 2012.
"We were told at that time that more than likely he will eventually be given parole and that we have to open our hearts and send impact statements every year to keep him in prison," Molina Bix, Allen's sister, said via a statement sent to the Ottumwa Courier. "It had now become the responsibility of his family and friends to once again convince someone that Michael Coffman was a murderer and criminal and needed to live out his original sentencing that the jury granted him in 1994 that was life in prison with no possibility of parole.
"Several years have passed since the killing of a loved son, brother and friend. One thing that helped the healing of the wounds from this tragedy was the fact that the killer was behind bars and justice was served. This news stripped away that peace."
This week, parole went from being a possibility to become reality for Coffman, now 42, despite objections from Wapello County Attorney Reuben Neff.
In a statement made to the parole board prior to the hearing at the request of Allen's family, Neff said, “Michael Coffman callously murdered Jeremy Allen outside Ottumwa High School in broad daylight. Instead of showing any remorse or concept of the horror he unleashed on Jeremy and this community, Coffman insisted at trial that it was Jeremy who threatened Coffman and caused the death. … This is ridiculous because it was Coffman who brooded over a minor argument with Jeremy over the course of a weekend, developed a plan to bring a gun to school after that weekend, and then proceeded to shoot Jeremy when the two were walking out of Ottumwa High School. Coffman even threatened Jeremy with a shooting over the weekend prior to this senseless murder.”
Neff said Coffman "gloated" to friends the day of the shooting, saying, "I'll shoot his ass. I'll do it. I've done two years for it before and I'll do two more." Neff said Coffman confirmed that statement twice under cross-examination.
Neff also stated that at the time, it was the first murder in Ottumwa in six years. Neff also cited Coffman’s previous legal troubles, including a plea bargain to second-degree robbery, originally a first-degree robbery charge.
“The facts of that case are that he abducted a woman and stole her car in 1993 while possessing a BB gun that he used to make said woman believe Coffman possessed a real firearm,” he wrote. “Think of the callousness and utter contempt for the values of society evidenced by Coffman placing a woman in fear for her life and showing no remorse for his act years later. …
“Coffman’s prior criminal record, during his un-incarcerated life, shows a complete lack of empathy for his fellow man and an incredibly violent offender. If you release this inmate, you will merely be laying the groundwork for yet another murder or kidnapping committed by Coffman,” the statement concludes.
"Though we should attempt rehabilitation as much as possible when it comes to juveniles, there are certain situationally specific instances where rehabilitation is statistically unlikely," Neff said Thursday, after parole was granted. He cited research by Matt Delisi at Iowa State University that indicates young offenders with a history of violent crime or other serious felonies would likely commit the same violent offenses again in the future. "I find this research and other similar work strongly indicate that defendants who behave fairly violently and specifically aim to victimize others will continue to do so if allowed to be in the community. I hope I'm wrong, but I do expect [Coffman] to do so over the next 15 or 20 years."
"Each year we have to relive this tragedy. Each year we have to feel responsible for keeping [Coffman] behind bars," Bix said. "Each board hearing the family and friends of Jeremy have to write down their feelings, impact statements and fears on paper to try to convince a group of people that the man who killed Jeremy doesn't deserve a second chance. ... He sat there during those parole hearings stoic, no emotion, no remorse."
"I have some harsh words for them," Neff said of the parole board. "I think it invites contempt for our justice system to parole somebody that murdered someone."
"It has become quite clear during this whole process that the justice system is there to help the criminals, and the victims lay in bed at night and suffer in their thoughts of a killer of their brother and friend living his freedom while Jeremy will never live another day," Bix said. "They believe the system owes this killer something which we will never understand. We want the public to see how the justice system is treating the victims and the criminals. We see who wins here."
According to a Facebook post by the “In Loving Memory of Jeremy Wade Allen” page, Coffman will be assigned to a work-release program and facility in Des Moines.
"This is a pretty sad situation," Neff said. "I really feel for the Allen family."
"There is no closure for this family. No justice for Jeremy," Bix said. "We give this to God and pray for justice in the end."