An appeals court has upheld the murder conviction of a former Camp Pendleton Marine who shot and stabbed an Army reservist, whose body was found zipped inside a sleeping bag in his SUV in a Fallbrook parking lot about two weeks after his family reported him missing.
Kevin Albert Richard Coset pleaded guilty in 2018 and was sentenced to 51 years to life in prison for the 2012 murder of 24-year-old Alvin Bulaoro, who was stabbed 44 times and shot twice in the head.
Prosecutors said cell phone records indicated that on the day Bulaoro disappeared, he was planning to meet up with someone he was having a sexual relationship with. The sleeping bag used to wrap up Bulaoro’s body matched a model sold at Camp Pendleton, leading investigators to Coset.
From there, detectives followed an investigative trail that led to a Fallbrook hotel room, where Coset stayed the night of the murder and where they found evidence of Bulaoro’s blood under the carpet and on walls, furniture and ceiling.
Sheriff’s investigators arrested the then-23-year-old Marine corporal on Feb. 22, 2013, outside his barracks on Camp Pendleton, where they found the gun used in Bulaoro’s murder and a journal which read: “My name is Kevin Coset. I am 23 years old and currently serving in Marine Corps. Over the past few years my life has been heading in a strange direction. Tonight I had to kill for the third time. It was a guy named Alvin Bulaoro out of Fallbrook.”
Coset was representing himself when he entered his guilty plea just after the prosecution made its opening statements in his murder trial.
He attempted to withdraw the plea about one month later, saying he pleaded guilty “under extreme duress” from the trial judge, according to an appellate panel’s ruling issued Monday.
Superior Court Judge Harry Elias denied the motion to withdraw, as well as a separate motion to disqualify Elias from the case.
In his appeal briefing, Coset argued Elias was “overly interested in obtaining a guilty plea,” such that he “felt as though there was nothing he could do or say to stop the discussion and resume trial without upsetting or enraging the court.”
The appellate court rejected Coset’s contentions, saying that he initiated the discussions regarding the change-of-plea, and agreed to plead guilty to murder and allegations that he used a gun and knife in the slaying, in exchange for dismissal of a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait, which would have had him facing life without parole.
The appellate panel said, “These concessions are fatal to Coset’s appeal.”
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