MURDER IN VISALIA: The Coin Dealer Killer

Guest post by: Ronn Couillard, author of MURDER IN VISALIA: The Coin Dealer Killer

Dealing in rare coins is not a common profession. When two coin dealers were robbed and murdered within two months of each other in Central California the police believed it was more than just a coincidence. The first murder occurred in Fresno and the second occurred some forty miles south in Visalia. The year was 1979 and the price of gold was fluctuating wildly. Small fortunes could be made by buying and selling at the right time.

Both coin dealers were murdered after keeping an appointment with an unknown customer to engage in a coin transaction. Other similarities were that both were shot by the same type of weapon and shot in a similar fashion. Also, both victims were robbed of only their most valuable item, their gold coins. There were no witnesses to either murder.

   Police investigation soon revealed a most unusual and unlikely suspect. As detectives delved into his background, they uncovered a series of rather bizarre incidents and behavior. An innocent looking young man in his early twenties, the suspect seemingly had a glib explanation for each incident which ranged from the strange to the far-fetched. Although the investigators agreed the young man was a most intriguing suspect, they also agreed they needed that “one more piece of evidence.”        

   Persistent police investigation over a period of months finally led to the discovery of that “one more piece of evidence.” This turned out to be a small piece of paper, smaller than a postage stamp, and found in a most unlikely location. With this additional piece of evidence a charge of murder was filed in one of the jurisdictions and a long legal process began.

   Because there were no eye witnesses to the murder, the entire case involved circumstantial evidence. Several legal rules and theories had to be employed to have some of this evidence allowed into the trial. As a result both murders were presented to the jury even though the defendant was formally charged with only one of the murders. The uncharged murder was allowed under an evidence rule relating to identity. The defendant was convicted, however a year later the conviction was overturned on appeal on some controversial issues.

   A second trial was conducted and the major issue in the successful appeal had a most ignominious fate. Also the defendant testified at this second trial and made some rather damaging admissions. Once again the trial resulted in a conviction and the defendant was once again sentenced to state prison. Not to give up, he again appealed. This time the appeal was denied, but that didn’t deter him. Two unprecedented and rather suspicious attempts were made through the prison system to have a third trial granted.