Submitted on Briefs: May 30, 2018
District Court of the First Judicial District, In and For the
County of Lewis and Clark, Cause No. ADC 2015-271 Honorable
Mike Menahan, Presiding Judge
Appellant: Chad Wright, Appellate Defender, Kristina L. Neal,
Assistant Appellate Defender, Helena, Montana
Appellee: Timothy C. Fox, Montana Attorney General, Tammy A.
Hinderman, Assistant Attorney General, Helena, Montana Leo J.
Gallagher, Lewis and Clark County Attorney, Melissa Broch,
Deputy County Attorney, Helena, Montana
Jeremiah Shea, Justice.
Defendant Coleton Christos Coburn appeals the sentence of the
First Judicial District, Lewis and Clark County, sentencing
him to the Montana State Prison (MSP) instead of committing
him into the custody of the Montana Department of Health and
Human Services (DPHHS).
We address the following issue on appeal:
Whether the District Court erred when it sentenced Coburn
to prison and did not find that Coburn suffered from a mental
disease, defect, or developmental disability that rendered
him unable to appreciate the criminality of his behavior or
to conform his behavior to the requirements of law.
AND FACTUAL BACKGROUND
On July 12, 2015, two-year-old P.N. was in the care of Coburn
while her mother, Coburn's girlfriend, worked. When she
left for work, P.N.'s mother observed P.N. was "not
injured and was behaving normally." Coburn's
roommate, Marla George, also observed P.N. prior to leaving
the house and testified P.N. appeared physically fine, though
P.N.'s eyes were puffy and red, as if she had been
At 7:19 p.m., Coburn called P.N.'s mother to tell her
that P.N. had a seizure. P.N. was transported to St.
Peter's Hospital and then life-flighted to Spokane, where
she died the next day. Medical personnel identified seventy
discrete injuries on P.N.'s body, including skull
fractures, bruising, abdominal injuries, and injuries to the
genitals. An autopsy was performed, and the medical examiner
concluded the cause of P.N.'s death was non-accidental
blunt force head trauma.
When questioned about what happened, Coburn repeatedly
changed his story. He initially stated P.N. had a seizure;
then he later told authorities P.N. had fallen while climbing
on a pile of boxes; later still, Coburn said he blacked out
and fell down stairs while holding P.N. A search of
Coburn's home revealed physical evidence that P.N.'s
injuries were consistent with the medical examiner's
conclusions and inconsistent with any of Coburn's
versions of events.
Coburn's behavior at the hospital was also erratic. When
confronted by a doctor who questioned Coburn's story as
inconsistent with P.N.'s injuries, Coburn threatened to
assault the doctor. While medical personnel attempted to
revive P.N., Coburn stood nearby and placed a phone call.
Coburn began yelling obscenities and was asked to leave. When
he refused, a police officer forcibly escorted Coburn out and
restrained him in a patrol car. When confronted by the fact
that P.N. would likely not survive her injuries, Coburn told
P.N.'s inconsolable mother not to be so upset because she
would have another baby in a few months. Coburn admitted to
drinking, smoking marijuana, and taking hydrocodone the day
of P.N.'s death. Coburn's toxicology report showed a
blood alcohol level of 0.06 and the presence of THC in his
On August 11, 2015, the State charged Coburn with Deliberate
Homicide for causing P.N.'s death, Criminal Possession of
Dangerous Drugs (marijuana), Criminal Possession of Drug
Paraphernalia, and Obstructing a Peace Officer or Other
Public Servant. On October 22, 2015, the State amended the
Information to add the charge of Criminal Possession of
Dangerous Drugs (methamphetamine). On December 18, 2015,
Coburn entered an Alford plea to the charge of
Deliberate Homicide. Pursuant to the plea agreement, both the
State and Coburn recommended a life sentence. Coburn argued
that he should be sentenced to DPHHS custody, pursuant to
§ 46-14-311, MCA, rather than to MSP. Coburn retained
Natalie Brown, Ph.D. to determine whether he suffered from a
mental disorder at the time of his offense that prevented him
from conforming his conduct to the law. After Coburn provided
the State with a copy of Dr. Brown's report, the State
moved, pursuant to § 46-14-311(2), MCA, for a
pre-sentence investigation and mental health evaluation to be
performed by DPHHS. The District Court granted the
State's motion, and the State transported Coburn to the
Montana State Hospital (MSH), where he was housed, observed,
and evaluated for a ninety-day period.
Following the ninety-day observation, the District Court held
sentencing hearings on June 23, 2016, and July 14, 2016. On
June 23, 2016, Montana State Hospital Staff Psychiatrist.
Virginia Hill, M.D., testified at Coburn's sentencing
hearing. Dr. Hill testified that Coburn suffered from Fetal
Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) but opined that his FASD did
not make him unable to conform to the law. Dr. Hill testified
that, "[c]ertainly the etiology for some of Mr.
Coburn's impulsive problems-the executive functioning
problems-are related to his exposure to alcohol, cocaine,
[and] cigarettes during utero." Following observation of
Coburn for ninety days at MSH, Dr. Hill, and the other
medical personnel, confirmed additional diagnoses of ADHD, a
number of substance abuse disorders, and antisocial
personality disorder. However, Dr. Hill also concluded that
Coburn is very high functioning. Dr. Hill testified that
while Coburn's FASD contributed to the offense, she did
"not think it was the primary factor in the tragedy that
occurred. . . . If there had not been drugs and alcohol on
board, I don't think this would have happened. . . .
[b]ecause . . . that kind of behavior is not [Coburn's]
usual daily response to stressors and crises." Dr. Hill
[B]ased on my interviews with Mr. Coburn, my reading of
several other evaluators' assessment of type of crime
behaviors, the court reports, I do not believe that the
alcohol related neurodevelopmental disorder, or ADHD,
symptoms were primarily responsible for what happened on that
tragic night. . . . I instead attribute the . . . severe
tragedy . . . primarily to the alcohol and drug use.
Dr. Hill credited being clean and sober, as well as a
successful pharmacological regimen, with Coburn's
progress and good behavior at the time he was transferred
from MSH to court custody. Dr. Hill concluded that, because
Coburn is very high functioning, he does not require the
inpatient level of care ...