De facto life sentence for man who planned 'war' on PSP
Convicted York County terrorist Howard "Tim" Cofflin Jr. had his own words used against him Wednesday by his sentencing judge, who reminded Cofflin he'd vowed to kill his ex-girlfriend and state police "no matter how long it took."
"You were one drill press short of a killing spree," Common Pleas Judge Harry Ness told Cofflin. "But for that, there would have been blood (running) down the streets of Loganville."
He sentenced Cofflin, 57, formerly of Loganville, to a minimum of 36⅓ to 72⅔ years in state prison, which Cofflin's public defender, Jim Rader, described as a de facto life sentence.
A jury in March convicted Cofflin of two counts of attempted first-degree murder — one count each for ex Tina Snyder and state police. They also found him guilty of attempted murder of a law-enforcement officer, two counts of terrorism and one count each of making terroristic threats and bomb threats. Additionally, Cofflin was convicted of making terroristic threats and harassment in a separate case for threatening Snyder in text messages to a third party.
Chief deputy prosecutor Tim Barker said Cofflin was enraged at having to move out of his home after Snyder obtained a temporary protection-from-abuse order against him, and he decided to send a message to judges and the court system that warned them against granting PFAs.
An 'enigma': Ness called Cofflin an enigma — smart, educated and a mechanical engineer by trade.
"Yet you chose the most corrupt solution to an ordinary problem ... (that problem being) a temporary order that displaced you from your stuff," the judge said, adding that Cofflin intended to use cop-killer bullets "to send a message to the government."
Snyder told the judge — through a written statement read in court by a victim-witness coordinator — that she still doesn't feel safe.
"I don't think anyone should ever feel like they are being hunted down by someone," she wrote.
Barker argued to the judge that if released, even years from now, Cofflin "will try to carry out his plan, no ifs, ands or buts about it."
"There's no hope of rehabilitation," the prosecutor said. "His heart is hardened."
Neither Rader nor Cofflin's family members tried to argue that he currently feels remorse for his scheme to kill his child's mother and law enforcement. But they did tell the judge that deep down, Cofflin isn't a bad person.
Could 'learn forgiveness': Daughter Christina Mahoney had asked the judge to hand down a sentence that would allow her father to be free one day.
"I love my father and I don't want to see him die in prison," she said. "I feel, with time, he will ... be able to move forward and progress ... and learn forgiveness.
"Deep down, I know my father's a good man," Mahoney said.
Cofflin's brother, David Waite, told the court he doesn't believe his brother would have gone through with his plot and was doing it simply to show he was smarter than police and other officials.
"(It was) more of a boast than a threat he would have carried out," Waite said, adding he believes Cofflin's mental-health issues contributed.
"I could kind of see some breakdowns over the years," he said. "I didn't think it would come to this."
First case in state: Cofflin's conviction included guilty verdicts on two counts of terrorism, apparently making York County the first county in Pennsylvania to convict someone under the state's revised terrorism law.
Barker confirmed that's his belief and the belief of his co-workers. He said when they tried to find another terrorism sentencing in the state to help determine an appropriate sentencing guideline range, no other convictions were found.
Also in court Wednesday, Ness told Cofflin he will hold a hearing to determine whether Cofflin should have to reimburse the county, and therefore taxpayers, for his legal services.
Cofflin had considerable assets, including high-end vehicles, a boat and a John Deere tractor, Ness noted.
Barker later said that Cofflin tried to sell those items while jailed and had previously made comments that "he was tired of paying attorneys."
The background: At trial, Barker told jurors that Cofflin was enraged that Snyder had obtained a protection-from-abuse order against him in August 2015 that forced him out of their Loganville home and into his mother's home in Dundalk, Maryland.
The PFA was the result of a domestic incident in which state police responded to his former Highland Road home, a move Cofflin saw as amounting to a war against him, according to the prosecutor.
Barker reminded jurors in his closing argument that Cofflin meticulously researched his "Plan B." He showed them the numerous items Cofflin had purchased to carry out what he called his "ultimate crime," including parts to assemble his own AR-15 assault rifle, since the PFA prohibited him from buying weapons.
Cofflin also bought six 30-round magazines for the rifle he was 80 percent finished building, as well as two bulletproof vests and 200 armor-piercing "cop killer" bullets, the prosecutor said. He also planned to use large propane tanks and the binary explosive Tannerite to make shrapnel bombs, which Cofflin referred to as improvised explosive devices, Barker said.
One phone call: Had Cofflin's former defense attorney, Seamus Dubbs, not alerted authorities to Plan B, Snyder and troopers would most likely be dead, Barker has said.
Dubbs testified at trial last month that in early October 2015 Cofflin "informed me he was in the planning and operational stages ... of an attack on his ex and state police."
Then on Oct. 21, 2015, Cofflin told Dubbs he'd acquired body armor and still needed to do some work to finish building an AR-15 assault rifle, "and as soon as he was done with that, he was going to act," Dubbs testified.
At that point, Dubbs alerted police to Cofflin's scheme, he said.
"In my opinion, I had to (do it)," the attorney testified. "It was more than just bluster. It was more than just anger. ... I didn't believe I was having any effect on dissuading him."
'I'm going to war': Also during the trial, jurors listened to Cofflin's taped interview with police after he'd been arrested.
"I'm going to go and kill (Snyder) ... and take back possession of my property," Cofflin says on the tape. "If I get out of here, that's still my mission."
He freely admitted conducting surveillance on the state police barracks in Loganville.
"I've already staked out their headquarters. I already know where they fuel their cars," he says on the tape. "I'm going to war with them."
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.