Judge dismisses Mark Anthony Coulier murder trial halfway through, noting lack of concrete evidence in attorney general’s case
By Jonathan Stoner | email@example.com
January 28, 2013 at 3:35 PM
Thomas spent the weekend considering all the evidence in the case.
When the trial resumed on Monday morning, the judge recapped all the testimony the Attorney General’s Office, which is serving as the prosecution in the case, had used to build their case before the jury was allowed back in the courtroom.
Thomas methodically went over the facts of the case, including the physical evidence at the shallow grave behind a multi-unit dwelling where Joyce Douglas-Coulier’s partially decomposed body was discovered.
Judge: Case not proven
In the judge’s estimation there was no evidence that the prosecution had brought forward that linked Coulier to the scene of the alleged crime. Thomas ruled another aspect of the case that was inconclusive was whether or not Douglas-Coulier’s death was in fact a murder.
“(The) medical examiner could not determine a cause of death,” said Thomas listing one of the many factors that influenced his difficult decision.
According to Thomas, there was “evidence that she was drug addicted and an alcohol abuser” during the last days of her life. During this period she was out on parole and living on and off out of her car, said Thomas.
He reminded both sides of the room that on the last day anyone saw Douglas-Coulier alive the testimony of witnesses confirms that she went to the apartment where she was staying with her husband.
“Mr. Coulier was tired and he wanted to go to bed (but) she was celebrating her birthday and didn’t want the celebration to end,” said Thomas.
The story is that Joyce left the apartment in the early morning hours of July 30 in search of drugs and the door was latched behind her. This was the last time she was seen alive.
“What determination can they make based on your evidence?” Thomas asked the prosecution.
Gregory R. Townsend, a prosecutor for the State Attorney General’s office, responded that there are “many occasions where you don’t have an eyewitness” in a murder. In this case, the jury has to make a decision based on a wealth of evidence that points to the one person who had a motive, he said.
“Who would want to kill Joyce? The defendant,” said Townsend. “Could the jury infer from that evidence that the defendant was responsible? And of course the answer is, yes.”
The judge disagreed that the prosecution had proven anything that would rule out all reasonable doubts regarding Coulier’s supposed involvement in the death of his wife. Considering the violence-prone drug abusers in the Couliers’ circle of friends and extended family, Thomas said almost anyone could have been capable of her alleged murder.
When he informed those present in the courtroom of his reluctant decision to throw out the case, sounds of disbelief and frustration emanated from prosecutors and Douglas-Coulier’s family members.
Douglas-Coulier’s mother and father were visibly grief-stricken as they exited the courtroom after hearing the judge’s ruling, they muttered a statement indicating that Coulier is free to kill again. They were not on the premises after the trial’s conclusion.
When the judge brought the jury back in, he explained that based on the lack of concrete evidence presented by the Attorney General’s Office, the court was granting the defense’s motion to dismiss the case. He said even the testimony from Coulier’s estranged son that his father had told him about putting a sock in his mother’s mouth, beating her and throwing her down a flight of stairs stopped short of an admission of murder.
Thomas concluded that even though the circumstantial evidence pointed to Coulier, there was not a clear connection between the defendant and Douglas-Coulier’s death. The judge said there are still other potential suspects in this case if there indeed was foul play and Douglas-Coulier did not die of natural causes.
Thomas said he agreed with Hayes, the defense attorney, that the state did not present a strong enough case for the jury to deliberate on.
“Could have been the sister. Could have been a stranger… Given the circumstances, your duty to the court and to the State has come to an end,” Thomas told the jurors as he released them.
Outside the courtroom family members of Coulier celebrated the outcome of the trial. They surrounded him and showered him with hugs and kisses. Many could be seen crying with relief.
According to family members who spoke with the Muskegon Chronicle and MLive, they were standing by Mr. Coulier from the beginning and are glad it’s over but said they were saddened by what Douglas-Coulier’s family has gone through.
“I’d like to say that I feel bad for the family and the loss of their daughter. I want them to know that. I just want the family to know that I sympathize with their loss,” said Sandi, Coulier’s sister, who did not wish to give her last name.
Two jurors, who did not wish to be identified, remarked that they supported the judge’s decision to throw out the trial based on the prosecution’s case.
“I think the state could have done a lot better,” said one of the jurors.
A press release from Coulier’s defense attorney expressed his team’s sincere sympathies to the Douglas family.
“This was a tragic situation, not only for the defendant, but for the family over the past 12 ½ years since their loss,” Hayes wrote. “Our justice system is one that relies on the presumption of innocence. The facts were presented in Court. Both sides were given an opportunity to examine the State’s case, and at the end of the day the facts demanded that this case could not go forward.”
The attorneys for the prosecution did not have any immediate comments they wished to share. Messages left with the Attorney General’s Office in Lansing were not immediately returned.