SAN FRANCISCO (BCN) — A 70-year-old San Francisco man has been sentenced to 35 years to life in prison for stalking and assaulting a woman who stopped returning his calls after a few dates, District Attorney George Gascon said today.
Thomas Coca was sentenced on Tuesday following his Dec. 1 conviction on charges including stalking, assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury, petty theft, dissuading a witness and two counts of exhibiting a deadly weapon, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors said Coca harassed and stalked the victim over a period of several months, from December 2014 to February this year, after she broke off a friendship struck up on the J Church Muni line in October 2014.
He barraged her with phone calls and messages professing his love for her and calling her names, threatened to kill himself and repeatedly showed up at her work place and other places where he knew she would be, they said.
Ultimately, he was arrested on Feb. 10 this year after a confrontation in which he struck the victim several times and tried to drag
her away while she screamed for help and attempted to call the police. He took her phone, and when bystanders intervened, he told them “It’s ok, she’s my girl.”
Eventually he let her go and tried to leave the scene, threatening bystanders who followed him with a knife. Police arrived before he could leave, however, and too him into custody.
Prosecutors said he was armed with a knife, a condom and a roll of duct tape at the time of the attack. They referred to Coca, who has prior convictions for robbery and kidnapping in 1971 and for rape, kidnapping and forced oral copulation in 1980, as a “career predator.”
“Mr. Coca violated this victim’s sense of safety and security, and turned her life upside down,” Assistant District Attorney Erica Corns said in a statement, praising the victim’s “bravery” and willingness to testify.
Deputy Public Defender Phoenix Streets, who represented Coca, disputed the description of Coca as a predator and said he had filed a notice of appeal of the conviction today.
Streets argued the case was heavily overcharged and prosecuted and that Coca never threatened to harm the victim, only himself.
Judge Jerome Benson dismissed additional assault and kidnapping charges and the jury acquitted Coca of a robbery charge for taking the phone, Streets said. The 35 years to life sentence is based on the charge of dissuading a witness and on Coca’s prior record, which is more than 30 years old, Streets said.
Streets noted that Coca was released from prison in 2004 and had not been arrested for any violent crimes in the years since then. Initially homeless upon his release, he had obtained social security benefits and counseling, and did some painting to supplement his income.
“So this is somebody who is trying, and now the judge is going to throw him behind bars for the rest of his life,” Streets said, calling the sentence “cruel and unusual” given his client’s age. “This is ridiculous, this is not something they should be bragging about.”
“This man went to unconscionable extremes that put his victim in considerable fear for her safety,” Gascon said today in a statement.
Noting that January is National Stalking Awareness Month, Gascon said that stalking “is a very serious crime which takes a tremendous toll on the victim.” He said he planned to seek changes to state law in the coming year that would make it easier for law enforcement to intervene earlier in stalking cases and increase the protections provided to victims.
As many as 7.5 million people are stalked each year in the United States, according to U.S. Department of Justice figures.