The checklist of adjectives John Coggeshall’s pals and colleagues use to explain him is lengthy.
Among the many favorites: hard-working, passionate, devoted, optimistic, proficient and sensible. Quirky, loveable, and infuriating additionally had been standard.
However most likely the one which summed him up greatest — compassionate.
The longtime Norfolk felony protection lawyer — who grew to become well-known lately for acquiring pardons for shoppers with extremely lengthy sentences and seemingly no hope — died Sunday from most cancers. He was 71.
Cog, as he was identified by pals, found he was terminally unwell a few month earlier than he died, mentioned longtime good friend Stacy Apelt. He responded to the information with humor and style, Apelt mentioned, simply as his pals would have anticipated.
“He was in nice spirits all the way in which to the tip,” Apelt mentioned. “He was like, ‘I’m OK. If it’s my time, it’s my time.’”
Coggeshall’s loss of life got here lower than 4 months after his spouse of 36 years, Aileen, who additionally died of most cancers. Aileen had two kids who died inside the final yr, in keeping with a household good friend.
A local of Connecticut, Coggeshall gained fame first as a performer and lounge singer earlier than embarking on a authorized profession.
He earned a bachelor’s diploma in drama from the College of North Carolina College of the Arts, and got here to Norfolk in 1975 for a two-week gig performing his one-man lounge act. He sang comedic songs he’d written, and performed numerous devices. Because the gig stored getting prolonged, Coggeshall determined to make Norfolk his dwelling.
He continued acting at golf equipment throughout Hampton Roads till the mid-Nineteen Nineties, when he handed the state bar examination and have become a lawyer. He did it by participating in Virginia’s “regulation reader” program, which permits contributors to check the regulation below the steering of a supervising lawyer reasonably than go to regulation college.
Virginia is one among solely 4 states that enables regulation licenses to be obtained that means. And whereas it might appear interesting, lower than 20% of contributors move the bar examination on their first attempt.
Coggeshall succeeded on his first try. Not lengthy after, he started representing indigent shoppers as a court-appointed lawyer.
“He took on the instances that nobody else wished or believed in,” mentioned Norfolk lawyer and former metropolis councilman Andy Protogyrou, a good friend of Coggeshall for greater than 20 years. “He trusted and believed in his shoppers and so they trusted and believed in him.”
Amongst them was Skyler Hayward, a Norfolk teenager and gang member charged in 2007 with participating in a very brutal homicide and theft that left a 19-year-old man overwhelmed to loss of life in an East Ocean View parking zone. Hayward agreed to testify towards eight fellow gang members and was launched after spending 5 years in solitary confinement for her personal safety.
Coggeshall visited her usually and spent about $500 of his personal cash shopping for her paperback books, in keeping with a 2012 Virginian-Pilot story in regards to the case. Within the evenings, when she’d name him from jail, he’d play his keyboard and sing to her to attempt to maintain her spirits up. When she was lastly launched, he was there to choose her up and took her to get her first post-incarceration meal.
The majority of Coggeshall’s authorized work continued to be court-appointed instances till 2018, when he received conditional pardons for 3 males in sooner or later. He obtained a few half-dozen extra after that. Some had been executed with out pay.
The three pardons issued in 2018 had been handed down by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe on his final day in workplace. In all three instances, the lads had acquired unusually lengthy sentences for theft convictions. Two had dedicated their crimes after they had been juveniles.
Travion Blount was sentenced as a young person to 6 life phrases plus 118 years for an armed theft at a Norfolk home occasion. Lenny Singleton was sentenced to 2 life phrases plus 110 years for a week-long spree of robberies he dedicated whereas battling a crack habit. The third was Travis Hassan Could, who obtained 160 years for a string of armed robberies he dedicated as a teen.
After that, the emails and calls from individuals wanting help with pardon petitions poured in, and Coggeshall centered all his time on them, mentioned Monique Santiago, who was concerned within the effort to free Blount and later started working for Coggeshall, serving to him along with his pardon work.
“We had been very shut,” Santiago mentioned. “I known as him ‘outdated man’ and he known as me ‘kiddo.’”
Coggeshall cared deeply for all his shoppers, however he gravitated to those that acquired “outsized” sentences, Santiago mentioned. He was engaged on about 30 pardon petitions on the time of his loss of life, she mentioned.
“He was nonetheless speaking and nonetheless making an attempt to offer orders,” as he was being handled at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk earlier this month, Santiago mentioned. “That was John.”
Vandy Singleton obtained to know Coggeshall whereas engaged on the pardon case for her husband, Lenny. She’d been on the lookout for a lawyer for some time when she got here throughout Coggeshall’s title. He was the one one who bothered to take her name and hearken to her husband’s story.
Like Santiago, she ended up taking a job with Coggeshall to assist with petitions. Lenny Singleton additionally obtained concerned after his launch, dealing with many of the communication with shoppers whereas Vandy put the paperwork collectively.
“It’s been so rewarding,” Lenny mentioned of the work. “I’m so grateful and appreciative to lawyer Coggeshall. Having the chance to work with him, and to have the ability to assist individuals going via the identical factor that I did, it has meant a lot to me.”
The couple lately fashioned a restricted legal responsibility firm and plan to maintain the pardon work going. Their a few years working alongside Coggeshall confirmed them what it takes to achieve success, she mentioned.
“Cog was so meticulous,” Vandy Singleton mentioned. “He was very a lot a perfectionist. He wished top-notch, excellent petitions — or not less than as excellent as they might be — each time.”
The couple additionally hopes to create a nonprofit group that may help inmates who can’t afford to pay for his or her providers. They plan to call it after Cog.
“He’s my private hero,” Vandy Singleton mentioned. “I believe he was that for lots of people.”
A memorial service for Coggeshall will likely be held at 10 a.m. July 23 at First Presbyterian Church in Norfolk.
Jane Harper, firstname.lastname@example.org