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Schenectady man who won federal gun appeal convicted after trial

Schenectady man who won federal gun appeal convicted after trial

The larger investigation touched on the 2014 murder of a Schenectady mother, prosecutors have said
Schenectady man who won federal gun appeal convicted after trial
Photographer: Shutterstock

ALBANY - A Schenectady man who won a federal appeal to take his weapons plea back, and push his case to trial, now faces a longer sentence after a federal jury convicted him in that trial last week.

The larger investigation in the case also touched on the 2014 murder of a Schenectady mother, according to an earlier prosecution filing, as prosecutors alleged his illegal activities "ultimately resulted in the murder."

John Coffin, 49, was convicted Friday of one federal count of illegally possessing a handgun while having prior convictions for possessing a handgun in Schenectady in March 2015.

The same federal jury acquitted Coffin of a second charge, possessing a firearm in furtherance of a drug trafficking offense, a charge Coffin had originally pleaded guilty to and received a sentence of 10 years, 5 months.

Coffin appealed that, and a federal appellate court found insufficient evidence that Coffin knew what he was pleading guilty to. Coffin had denied the drug trafficking aspect throughout and afterward. The court then sent the case back for trial.

But his acquittal on that charge last week appears to be a hollow one for Coffin. Three prior felony convictions -- two drug-related and one attempted assault -- place his minimum sentence for last week's conviction at 15 years.

The case stemmed from an undercover weapons sale in Schenectady. An informant met Coffin at an Albany Street address on March 23, 2015, and Coffin ultimately gave the informant a Walther P22 .22-caliber handgun in exchange for a $500 reduction in a debt for cigarettes previously provided, prosecutors alleged. He also called the gun a "fully automatic twenty-two," "the murderer's gun."

Prosecutors at his scheduled March sentencing are not expected to mince words in their sentencing argument. Coffin faces the minimum 15 years, but also up to life.

Prior to his earlier sentencing, prosecutors called Coffin a "dangerous lifelong criminal" and contended that by his own admission he had been involved in numerous shootouts in Schenectady. Prosecutors also contended that during the course of the investigation, Coffin was involved in the illegal possession and transfer of at least four firearms.

One firearm he provided to a third party was "subsequently used by that third party in a grisly murder," prosecutors alleged. Prosecutors did not identify the murder in their filing and the date of the alleged transfer appears to have been incorrect in the filing as it was after his arrest. But later in the filing, however, prosecutors noted that Coffin "laughed about returning a firearm to Jamell Modest" and wrote that Coffin's "illegal activities related to trafficking firearms ultimately resulted in the murder of a mother in front of her own young child."

Modest is serving 23 years to life in prison after he admitted to gunning down former girlfriend Markia Harris inside a parked vehicle on State Street in Schenectady Dec. 13, 2014. The couple’s 9-month-old child was in the back seat as Modest fired five times into the vehicle.

However, another man, Robert Daniels, admitted in court to providing Modest the gun used to kill Harris. Daniels gave it to Modest two days before the murder in exchange for a car, planning the exchange in coded conversations captured as part of a federal drug investigation wiretap, local prosecutors have said. Daniels was later sentenced to 10.5 years in state prison.

It is unclear what if any connection Daniels had to Coffin.

"[Coffin] is a danger and a menace to the community," prosecutors wrote ahead of Coffin's original sentencing, "he is not a contributing member of society and is, along with others, responsible for substantial criminal activity in Schenectady, New York. If history is a guide, the defendant will return to a life of pointless violent street crime upon his release from prison."

Prosecutors then recommended between 6 years, 5 months and 8 years in prison. The judge in the case ultimately sentenced him to 10 years, 5 months.

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