The state Parole Commission denied the parole application of Gregory A. Coulthard on his 1990 first-degree intentional homicide conviction.
Coulthard was convicted in July 1990 for shooting to death Grant County Deputy Sheriff Tom Reuter on New California Road in the Town of Clifton March 18, 1990. Coulthard was sentenced to life in prison with parole eligibility beginning March 19, 25 years and one day after Reuter’s death.
The Parole Commission’s decision was made April 7, delivered to Coulthard at the New Lisbon Correctional Institution Wednesday, and announced Thursday.
According to the Department of Corrections final action report, the commission “remains concerned with the severity of [Coulthard’s] offense, [his] narcissist attitude which was discussed during [his] parole interview” as well as “the need to serve more time. A release at this time would pose an unreasonable risk to the community.”
The commission report, which was addressed to Coulthard, also noted that Coulthard “expressed remorse for killing the Deputy; yet at the same time you seem to believe that you’re being treated differently because of the nature of your conviction which you find frustrating. By virtue of your actions of killing a police officer, you placed yourself in this situation and as such you’re responsible for the associated consequences. More time needs to be served so as not to depreciate the seriousness of your actions and the impact they’ve had on others.”
Coulthard will be ineligible for parole for six more years, until March 19, 2021.
Coulthard’s parole eligibility date prompted a petition drive to deny parole for Coulthard on the Officer Down Memorial Page, part of ODMP’s No Parole for Cop Killers initiative.
Iowa County Circuit Judge James Fiedler, who heard Coulthard’s case in Grant County Circuit Court after a judge substitution, sentenced Coulthard under the 1988 “life-means-life” state law that allowed judges to set a parole eligibility date for a life sentence, or to deny a parole date entirely. The earliest date for parole eligibility would have been 13 years and four months; Grant County District Attorney Emil Everix sought 40-year parole eligibility.
Reuter, 38, graduated from Platteville High School and became a full-time deputy in 1985. He was on his way home from his 4 p.m.-to-midnight shift March 18, 1990 when he saw what appeared to be a disabled tractor on New California Road west of Wisconsin 80 around 11:25 p.m. Coulthard, who was a farmhand on the Lynden Grove Farm outside of Livingston, had taken a tractor from the farm intending to drive to Platteville that night.
According to the report, Coulthard believed that Reuter “was startled and that caused him to fire a shot” when Coulthard was trying to park the tractor. Coulthard then ducked and after he “realized there were no shots” grabbed his gun.
Coulthard saw Reuter’s flashlight at the tractor door and “shot in the direction of the flashlight,” according to the report.
“The Parole Commission finds it difficult to believe the Officer would’ve fired a shot without cause given that directly contradicts police training protocol,” the report said, addressing Coulthard. “Still you were aware it was a Police Officer and even if he had fired a shot, when he approached the cab with a flashlight you deliberately shot at him. During sentencing the Judge indicated that the victim had no warning prior to being shot, had no indication he was in danger, and had no chance to defend himself. He also made it clear that you knew it was an Officer because the police car lights were activated and you intended to threaten him with a gun; of which he obtained from your testimony.”
Coulthard was on probation on a criminal damage to property charge from 1989, the sentence for which included jail time.
“During trial it was reported that you shot the Deputy because jail was a bad experience and you were scared of going back,” the report said, addressing Coulthard. “During your parole interview you indicated that you had been drinking, you had the gun out of habit, you were scared and you lacked direction in life.”
Coulthard was captured by a Dane County K-9 dog shortly after 4 a.m., almost five hours after the shooting.
Reuter was survived by his wife, Diane, and five children, one of whom, Dan, is now a Grant County sheriff’s deputy.
Reuter’s burial was held at St. Mary Catholic Church in Platteville, attended by an estimated 700 law enforcement officers from throughout the U.S., including a procession to Rock Church Cemetery in Clifton with more than 200 squad cars.
Coulthard’s attorneys, public defenders Seth Stoltz and Dale Pasell, argued that Coulthard should have been convicted of first-degree reckless homicide, instead of intentional homicide. The jury took less than two hours to convict Coulthard of the intentional-homicide charge.
The report said that Coulthard’s attorneys told him there was no self-defense defense in a shooting of a police officer, so Coulthard “went with the ‘I was surprised’ defense.”
Coulthard appealed his conviction, but the state Court of Appeals denied his appeal in October 1992. Coulthard’s appeal claimed that Fiedler erred when the jury wasn’t polled on its verdict when the verdict was announced. Before Coulthard’s sentencing one month later, the jury was brought back to Lancaster and re-polled on its verdict.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the polling before sentencing meant that “no reasonable possibility exists that one or more jurors not only falsely responded to the collective poll [when the verdict was announced] but also to the individual poll” at sentencing.
The state Supreme Court refused to hear Coulthard’s appeal later in the 1990s.
The report said that Coulthard had received five “minor conduct reports” since his prison sentence began, which the commission termed “acceptable.” The report also notes Coulthard’s interest in an unspecified treatment program, but “endorsing program enrollment at this time is premature noting the lengthy deferment and the need to manage available resources to meet the needs of those” who will be released before Coulthard.
A representative of the Department of Corrections said the type of treatment program could not be disclosed under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act.
The report noted that Coulthard claims to “differ greatly from the person you were when you committed this crime; now you’re a leader that is motivated, a person that stays busy with work, recreation, reading, and writing and you care about others.”
However, the report also said, “Due to your actions, the Deputy left behind a wife of 17 years and five children ranging in age from 7–15. Your crime also negatively impacted his colleagues and others in Law Enforcement making it difficult for them to remain in the profession.”