Warning: This article contains graphic content.
Nearly four months after he was found guilty on 14 felony charges of sexual assault, Zachary Coughlin, otherwise known as the Isla Vista “Mirror Bus” driver, was sentenced to 20 years determinately and 125 years to life indeterminately in prison during his 1:30 p.m. sentencing hearing on Oct. 20. He will also be a Tier 3 registered sex offender for life.
Coughlin was arrested and charged on May 19, 2020, following social media reports of his behavior, which included “stalking — for which he was arrested — yelling at community members and making references to the 2014 I.V. tragedy on his social media accounts,” the Nexus reported.
In October 2020 while in custody, Coughlin was charged with an additional 17 felony charges, including multiple counts of rape and sexual penetration of unconscious or intoxicated individuals.
On July 22, 2021, Coughlin was found guilty by a jury on 14 felony charges — three less than what he was originally charged with in October 2020.
During the sentencing hearing, the defense and prosecution presented their respective arguments for the type of sentence Coughlin should receive.
Megan Chanda, one of the prosecuting lawyers, argued for 20 determinate years and 125 years to life indeterminately, citing the fact that most of the crimes Coughlin committed were filmed and kept by the defendant. In addition, the prosecution cited various aspects of the case, including how Coughlin targeted “vulnerable women, and he exploit[ed] them for his own sexual benefit,” as reasoning for their sentencing request.
Of the Jane Does targeted by Coughlin, one had substance abuse issues and another was found incompetent to stand trial. Two of the Jane Does were also houseless.
The prosecution also said that Coughlin shows an “utter lack of remorse” for his actions “and the fact that up to this day [he] still does not believe that he’s done anything wrong.” The prosecution added that Coughlin consistently lied on the stand — despite hard evidence contradicting his statements.
“He lied under oath numerous times. In some instances, it was clear he was making up a story to fit the narrative that he wanted the jurors to hear,” Chanda said. “He tried to manipulate the situation. He tried to manipulate the jurors. He’s tried to manipulate this court on numerous occasions.”
Chanda added that the videos kept by Coughlin were in the thousands and that some of the women could not be identified; others could be identified but were not found.
Philip Capritto, the defendant’s lawyer, also presented a case for a reduced sentence, saying that Coughlin’s actions were at least partially the result of his mental health. In addition, the defense said that the sentence the prosecution was arguing for could be argued as a violation of the Eighth Amendment — the amendment prohibiting cruel or unusual punishment.
“I understand that this case is disturbing — no doubt about it. But we don’t punish people because something’s disturbing. We punish them for the crimes that they were found to be guilty of and how the law applies to those crimes. Otherwise, we’re not really following the law. What we’re doing is we’re following how we feel,” Capritto said.
Prior to his sentencing, Coughlin requested to speak to the court.
Coughlin directly addressed the prosecution’s claim that he showed no remorse for his actions and said his behavior was “shameful and terrible and if [he] could apologize to all those [he] hurt, [he] would.”
Coughlin shared some of his personal history, saying that he’s struggled with chronic depression since age five, has anger issues and cited dependency on marijuana, adderall and sex.
Following Coughlin’s statement to the court, Von T. Nguyen Deroian, the presiding Santa Barbara Superior Court judge, sided with the prosecution and sentenced Coughlin to 20 determinate years and 125 years to life indeterminately in prison. She also denied him probation and sided with the prosecution’s request for Coughlin’s sentence being served consecutively.
Deroian said that Coughlin’s crimes showed that he was a risk to the safety of women and that his testimony did not reflect remorse. The sentencing ended with Deroian telling Coughlin that he still had an opportunity to change his behavior and help people while incarcerated.