On New Year's Eve, New Hampshire received some welcome news in the high-profile case of former Manchester Police Det. Stephen Coco, accused of hitting two teenagers in Bedford last March and driving off. On Dec. 19, a grand jury indicted Coco on two felony charges of conduct after an accident, and the indictments were released on the last day of the year.
"Conduct after an accident" is the official term for "hit-and-run." On March 22, two Bedford teenagers were struck by a vehicle while walking home on a residential street. Bedford police quickly matched a vehicle in Coco's possession that night — an undercover Manchester police SUV — to vehicle debris at the scene, they said. Coco was charged with two felonies for allegedly hitting the teens and then driving off. Coco said through his attorney that he rode onto a snow bank while checking his cell phone but had no idea he had hit anyone.
Sullivan County Attorney Marc Hathaway was brought in to prosecute the case to make sure there was no favoritism. But when he offered Coco a plea deal that would have convicted him of misdemeanors instead of felonies and put him in jail — not prison — for only a year, it looked a lot like police favoritism after all. In November, Superior Court Judge Gillian Abramson rejected the plea deal, said the one-year jail sentence was unacceptable, and scheduled a trial for March. The grand jury indictment means that Coco faces two felony charges, each with a maximum penalty of 3 1/2 to 7 years in state prison and a $4,000 fine. That is a far cry from the paltry year in county jail Hathaway had offered. A trial on the felony charges is what the victims' families wanted. We are glad they will get it. Unlike the plea deal offered by Hathaway, the trial will allow the pursuit of justice to proceed. Whatever the outcome, it was important that Coco be tried like any other citizen and not get a lenient plea deal that would undermine confidence in our justice system.