Howard Coffman

Finger print card for Howard Coffman shows all fingers except one on left hand.
Howard Coffman's Oregon State Penitentiary fingerprint card. Enlarge image
It was a question of fairness. A three year sentence in the State Penitentiary is what Howard Coffman faced after being the lone member of three defendants found guilty in Multnomah County for operating an illegal still. Paddy Lynch and Jack Paisley, despite their guilt being equal or perhaps more compelling than Coffman’s, were directed by Judge Robert Morrow to be found not guilty at trial.  

In a letter to the Board of Parole in May, 1928, Judge Morrow described how Coffman pleaded guilty and how “The conduct of the case and the fall of the testimony was such that I was compelled, much against my will, to direct a verdict of not guilty” for Lynch and Paisley. He continued by stating “The three were clearly guilty; but now that Lynch and Paisley had escaped and Coffman has been at Salem for a year, I am inclined to the view that a conditional pardon would not be inappropriate.” In March, 1928, District Attorney Stanley Myers echoed this sentiment in a letter to the warden.

Sheriff Beeman, writing directly to Coffman at the penitentiary, noted that he was ”sure that you had less to do with this still than the two co-defendants that were found not guilty.”

Coffman’s sister, in a letter to the Parole Board in July, 1928, asked for him to be paroled to their mother in Alhambra, California, due to the “environment” in Portland. Because Coffman had been an inmate earlier on a larceny conviction, he was not eligible for parole. However, Governor Patterson issued Coffman a pardon on July 19, 1928 with the specific condition that he “go to the State of California, and … not return to the State of Oregon” or else he would have to finish out the rest of his original sentence.