Within 2 1/2 hours, a Pike County jury reached a guilty verdict for the defendant charged with first degree murder in the July 2014 stabbing death of his half-brother on I-72 between Missouri and Illinois.

Within 2 1/2 hours, a Pike County jury reached a guilty verdict for the defendant charged with first degree murder in the July 2014 stabbing death of his half-brother on I-72 between Missouri and Illinois.

Joseph M. Coffman appeared with defense attorneys Keisha Morris and assistant defense attorney Mike Hollahan before Judge Diane M. Lagoski in Pike County Court on Wednesday, Oct. 13. State’s Attorney Zach Boren and Assistant State’s Attorney Leecia Carnes represented the prosecution. Each side presented closing arguments to the jurors, bringing to a close a trial that lasted 1 1/2 weeks.

After Lagoski reviewed written instructions for the jury members, Boren started his argument with one of the defendant’s statements recorded during the investigation with Pike County law enforcement officials. To reach a guilty verdict, jurors must determine beyond a reasonable doubt if the defendant’s actions caused the victim’s death and if the defendant intended to kill or severely injure the victim

“We walk outside and it started out. The anger came up and I took it out on him,” Boren said, regarding the events leading up to Dennis S. Coffman’s death. According to previous testimony, Joseph Coffman lived with his older half-brother, Joseph Coffman, in Illinois. The defendant was reportedly unhappy with the living situation at the home and the amount of chores he completed, Boren said.

On the night of Friday, July 18, 2014, the Coffmans drove to Hannibal to visit the elder Coffman’s mother, followed by drinks in Hannibal bars. At the Down Under Lounge, someone reportedly asked the defendant if he was Mexican, which seemed to make him upset. The Coffmans next walked to Sportsman Bar, where the situation “started to go south,” Boren said.

At the table, a mutual acquaintance asked the defendant a joke, which angered him. According to previous testimony, the defendant recounted twelve times someone in the bar looked at him threateningly or attempted to start a fight. The elder Coffman continually told his brother “It’s fine, it’s cool” before they decided to head to Ole Milt’s, Boren said.

Owner and bartender Elizabeth Campbell knew Dennis Coffman from previous visits, and served him his usual order of wings. She noticed the defendant appeared angry. The brothers left the bar at about 12:40 a.m. Saturday, July 19, 2014, and the defendant did not “look that drunk,” according to Campbell’s testimony.

Details are murky after that. The two men headed back to Illinois, with Dennis Coffman driving the pickup truck. During some point between Missouri and Illinois on I-72, Dennis Coffman was stabbed 18 times, including a mortal wound to his heart. Autopsy findings revealed multiple defensive wounds to the victim’s arms, suggesting he was “fighting for his life,” Boren said.

Boren showed jury members a knife he said belonged to the defendant, covered in the victim’s blood. Boren said factors including the number of stab wounds discovered and the fact the defendant called an ambulance and police proved the defendant intended to harm or kill his brother.

“I just stabbed my brother to death,” the defendant told a Marion County dispatcher.

Morris began her argument by noting the Coffmans had “a history.” She said the elder Coffman told his brother they were going to a concert in Hannibal, but they instead visited bars where the defendant had been involved in fights in the past. Dennis Coffman also reportedly purchased alcohol for his brother, against other family members’ wishes, Morris said.

According to testimony, Dennis Coffman reportedly made incendiary remarks about Joseph Coffman’s mother and sister while in the truck. Skippy, a half-sister to both brothers, previously testified that Dennis Coffman isolated Joseph Coffman and that the defendant drank daily.

Morris asked the jury who would injure the person in control of the vehicle they were traveling in, call 911, jump out in front of traffic to seek help, comfort the victim and keep his head elevated. Joseph Coffman made a “statement of heart without legal counsel,” kept his story consistent and asked for forgiveness, Morris said.

“Are these the actions of a person who intended to kill?” Morris asked.

In Boren’s response, he argued the defendant’s previous fights in Hannibal bars highlighted a violent response when he consumed alcohol. He added that no one knows for sure what words were exchanged within the vehicle, but words were “not an excuse to murder someone.”

Boren argued the defendants 911 calls, subsequent apology and recollection of events throughout the evening proved “consciousness of guilt” regarding intent to commit the crime.

Lagoski read instructions to the jurors before they went to the jury room at 11:30 a.m. By 2 p.m., the jury reached a verdict.

After Pike County Circuit Clerk Debbie Dugan read the guilty verdict, family members hugged each other and softly cried. Lagoski commended the jurors for their dedication and unwavering focus throughout the trial.

Lagoski set Coffman’s sentencing date for 9 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Reach reporter Trevor McDonald at trevor.mcdonald@courierpost.com