Gov. Jerry Brown reversed parole for a man convicted of raping and murdering his stepmother in San Juan Capistrano and doing the same to a family friend in Mira Loma, according to records obtained Thursday.
Gregory Coates, 61, was found suitable for parole May 2, but in a letter dated Friday, the governor reversed the grant of parole.
Coates , who was 17 at the time, broke into the family friend’s house through a window Jan. 22, 1975, and attacked 37-year-old Jean Stephens, whose body was found by her 12-year-old daughter when she got home from school, according to the governor, who noted, “the details of the murder are somewhat unclear.”
The victim’s “head had been wrapped in a pillowcase and some clothing and appeared to have been bludgeoned,” the governor wrote. “There were bite marks on her stomach. She had been shot in the face twice.”
On May 4, 1975, Coates broke in his father’s San Juan Capistrano home to wait for his 48-year-old stepmother, Betty Coates, to return home, the governor wrote. She told Coates to leave, but he returned through a window later and raped her, according to the governor.
An investigator said he “struck his stepmother against a doorjamb, knocking her unconscious,” the governor wrote.
Coates pulled a plastic bag over her head and also put a towel over her nose and mouth before dousing her with gas and igniting it, the governor said. Firefighters responding to a blaze found the body.
Brown noted Coates has remained free of trouble while in custody for three decades and has taken self-improvement steps while in prison, but he has failed to provide adequate explanations for his actions, so he remains too dangerous to be free.
The governor also noted that Coates was 17 and 18 when he killed and raped the victims.
“His father was an alcoholic who abused Mr. Coates’ mother,” Brown wrote. “His parents divorced when he was 9 years old and his father later married Betty Coates.”
Coates alleges his stepmother molested and “forced him to have sex with her from the ages of 12 to 15,” Brown wrote.
Coates left home at 15, got his girlfriend pregnant at 16 and found himself struggling as a young father, Brown wrote.
Coates told parole board commissioners that at the time he was “angry, confused, resentful, entitled … very jealous of people who had the American family, apple pie and everything.”
While in prison Coates has earned his high school diploma and has “participated in self-help classes, including Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, anger management and other programs,” Brown wrote.
When he was first imprisoned, Coates was “disciplined repeatedly for fighting and other violations,” but for the past 32 years has remained free of trouble, Brown wrote.
But the governor said the inmate’s crimes are “especially shocking and disturbing,” and his attempts to explain his motives in the attacks are “simply inadequate.”
Coates said he broke into the home of Stephens, who was a “major source of support” for him as a young father, to steal a gun. Asked why he raped his victim, he said he had no “good reason” and then suggested that his wife was not having sex with him since the birth of their child and he “wanted release,” according to the governor. He killed his victim to avoid capture, Coates said.
Coates also explained that he “hated” his stepmother for taking “his father away from his family,” the governor said.
Coates claimed he had “consensual sex” with his stepmother before killing her, but he grew “angry when she refused to help him with his wife and child,” Brown wrote.
“This does not ring true,” Brown wrote. “He had previously said that he raped his stepmother before killing her. Both these murders show an unbelievable level of sexual violence that he just can’t seem to explain.”
The governor offered Coates some hope for eventual release.
“I encourage Mr. Coates to continue to make efforts to understand, in a comprehensive manner, the reasons he committed these crimes so that he can show that he will never return to such violence in the future.”
Coates is next up for a parole hearing in November of 2019.
After Coates was found suitable for parole in May, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas wrote a letter imploring the governor to reverse the decision.
Messages left with Coates’ attorney, Uzoma Ogan, were not immediately returned.
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