Closing arguments underway in Juneau gun shop lawsuit trial

Attorney Mark Choate (right) recreates the murder of Simone Kim and its immediate aftermath during closing arguments to the jury on Thursday. Attorney Jon Choate portrays the wounded Kim. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)
Attorney Mark Choate (right) recreates the murder of Simone Kim and its immediate aftermath during closing arguments to the jury on Thursday. Attorney Jon Choate portrays the wounded Kim. (Photo by Matt Miller/KTOO)

The attorney for the family of a murdered Anchorage man called a Juneau gun shop owner a selfish and stubborn man whose refusal to change his sloppy business practices led to the homicide.

Closing arguments got underway Thursday afternoon in the wrongful death lawsuit filed against Ray Coxe of Rayco Sales. The family of Simone Kim alleges that Coxe’s negligence led to Jason Coday walking out of the store with a rifle only two days before the 2006 murder.

Kim family attorney Mark Choate said Coxe casually disregarded federal laws for reporting gun transactions whenever it suited him.

“He loves to sell them. But he loves to sell them his way,” Choate said. “He loves to sell them the way he’s always sold them because, by gosh, that’s what’s important to him.”

The Kim family alleges that Coxe sold the 10-22 Ruger rifle without a background check or Coday filling out a required Form 4473.

“We go through all the things that led to gun laws where we have national systems where you have to call in to make sure that the person isn’t a felon, a fugitive, meth addict, mentally ill or a domestic violence person,” Choate said.

Choate suggested that Coxe deliberately set up a VCR for a backup video surveillance system so that it would deliberately malfunction before a police officer arrived to inspect it on the day of the murder.

The VCR’s operation has become a central issue for both sides in the case. At dispute is whether the tape simply stopped at the end of an extended recording or whether it rewound and started playing again. And does it operate differently if the record-enable tab on the videocassette is removed? Jurors will get to experiment with the VCR during their deliberations in the jury room.

Coxe’s attorney Tony Sholty will make his closing arguments on Friday before Choate makes a rebuttal and the case goes to the jury.

It’s unknown how long the jury will deliberate, but they must first determine whether Coxe violated federal law by willingly and knowingly selling, delivering, or transferring the rifle to Coday. Another claim of negligent entrustment centers on whether Coxe knew if Coday would have used the rifle to harm someone else.

Jury considerations and punitive phase

The standard of proof is lower in civil cases than in criminal matters. Jurors must determine if the evidence makes the plaintiffs’ case more likely than not, rather than to be sure beyond reasonable doubt as in criminal cases.

The jury will have to work through a long, complicated special verdict form in which they apportion liability between Coday and Coxe, determine economic losses, assign amounts for Kim’s pain and suffering, adjust for the loss of his companionship and his help around the Kim household, and determine whether there should be special considerations for his parents as dependents.

If the jury decides to levy punitive damages against Coxe, then jurors will return to the courtroom for a second phase of the trial. That will be for any reckless indifference, malice or outrageous conduct. Arguments will likely be short before the jury begins another round of deliberations.

Testimony wrap-up

In other developments on Thursday, former Juneau police Lt. Walt Bowman said he contacted the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in 2002 because he was concerned about loose inventory control and lax security at Rayco Sales. Bowman testified about firearms stolen from the store, but the Juneau Police Department did not investigate any illegal sales there.

Jurors also heard the rest of a deposition taken from customer and former clerk Stan Bickham who wondered if Coxe was losing money because unlocked long guns were located near the door and could be easily stolen.

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