SANDPOINT — First District Judge Barbara Buchanan sentenced a Washington state man to life in prison for stabbing a cab driver to death and watching the man bleed out without rendering or summoning aid.
Jacob Corban Coleman will have to serve 40 years of the sentence before he becomes eligible for parole.
“I’m f--- up in the head mentally. I can’t put it any other way than that,” Coleman told the court during his sentencing hearing on Thursday.
Coleman, 21, was briefly unshackled so he could stand and address the court. He became upset by the victim’s family’s insistence that he spend most of the rest of his life behind bars and attempted to leave the courtroom. A Bonner County sheriff’s deputy and district court bailiff, however, immediately halted him, forced him back into his seat at the defense table and replaced the shackles.
Coleman’s mother sobbed and was consoled by Coleman’s father, who were seated in the jury box, after the sentence was announced. Friends and family of Gagandeep Singh, meanwhile, cheered the sentence from the courtroom gallery.
Coleman is accused of repeatedly stabbing Singh, 22, with a hunting knife inside Singh’s minivan taxicab on Aug. 28, 2017. Coleman, a Puyallup resident, hailed a ride from Singh at the Spokane International Airport and asked to be taken to Gonzaga University, where Coleman had initiated but not completed enrollment proceedings, according to testimony in the case. After being denied admission to the school, Coleman directed Singh to take him to Hope, but the two ended up aimlessly wandering Bonner County for a couple of hours.
During the ride, Coleman had expressed a desire to kill himself, although sheriff’s investigators said Coleman admitted to concocting a plan to murder Singh not long after entering the man’s cab.
In light of Coleman’s suicidal remarks, Singh unsuccessfully attempted to obtain Coleman’s phone to alert Coleman’s parents, which may have sent him into a rage, according to R. Keith Roark, Coleman’s defense counsel.
Coleman allegedly attacked Singh from the cab’s back seat and dragged him to the van’s passenger compartment, where he was stabbed repeatedly.
Singh was described as a focused student who was on a break from studying engineering and helping out his family’s business at the time of his slaying. He was quiet yet ambitious and had an innate desire to help others, a disposition that was likely informed by his Sikh heritage. Bonner County Prosecutor Louis Marshall suspected Singh was trying to assist Coleman when he was killed.
“All he was trying to do was help (Coleman) when he decided to take his life,” said Marshall.
Singh’s friends and family remain bereft and said the circumstances of his killing were unimaginable.
“He had a lot of hopes and a lot of dreams,” Singh’s mother said through a translator. “That’s all gone now.”
Singh’s older brother, Baljit, was unsparing in his assessment of Coleman, whom he called a piece of excrement.
“My brother was trying to help this monster sitting right here,” Baljit Singh said. “That’s all my brother was trying to do — help this guy.”
“I think ‘monster’ is an understatement,” said fellow cabbie Brian Campbell.
Racial animus was ruled out as a possible motive for Singh’s murder following a sheriff’s investigation, which found that Coleman had no history of racist beliefs. Coleman was charged with first-degree murder and faced the death penalty, but the ultimate punishment was removed from consideration after he agreed to plead guilty.
Roark suspected his client created a fantasy life in which he was a member of the international high-IQ group Mensa, captain of his high school debate team and gridiron standout. In reality, however, Coleman never attained those accolades and finished high school with a 1.5 grade-point average. Coleman’s purported acceptance into Gonzaga was apparently part of his aspirational fantasy and Roark said he was unable to face his parents in light of the school’s rejection.
Phillip Hanger, a Hayden psychologist who performed court-ordered mental health evaluations of Coleman, testified that Coleman suffered from pervasive maladaptive and schizoid personality disorders. However, Coleman’s personality was asocial rather than antisocial or psychotic, Hanger told the court.
Roark recommended a 20-year fixed term, arguing that the specter of a life sentence would hang over Coleman for the rest of his life.
“It’s important that there be a light at the end of the tunnel. It may be a distant light,” said Roark.
Marshall sought a 40-year fixed term, holding that Coleman will remain incarcerated into his 60s, an age at which empirical evidence shows defendants’ risk of recidivism drops significantly.
“It’s a despicable and cruel act,” Marshall said of the stabbing. “It’s something no person should have to endure.”
Buchanan ultimately opted to impose the state’s recommendation, finding that a 40-year fixed term would meet a sentencing goal of protecting society. Buchanan said she reviewed in her chambers surveillance video captured inside the cab prior to the hearing.
“I don’t think I’ve seen anything as disturbing as that video,” said Buchanan. “You just sat there playing with your cellphone and watched him die.”
Keith Kinnaird can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @KeithDailyBee.