A murder trial that already had some surprises ended with one last twist Friday when a former Camp Pendleton Marine attempted to withdraw his guilty plea before being sentenced to 51 years to life in prison for killing a Fallbrook man.
An hour into his trial in March, Kevin Coset, 28, pleaded guilty to murder and allegations he used a gun and a knife to kill Army reservist Alvin Bulaoro in 2012.
Coset had represented himself in the trial and was facing a sentence of life without parole.
In what was expected to be a routine sentencing Friday, Coset told Vista Superior Court Judge Harry Elias' that he wanted to change his plea to not guilty and asked for a new judge to preside over the case.
Elias explained that it was too late, but Coset said he believed the law was on his side because he had served as his own lawyer and had made the earlier plea under duress.
Elias, who had previously accepted the guilty plea, disagreed.
"Can I still refuse you as judge?" Coset then asked.
After Elias said it was too late for that, Coset replied, "Nah, never mind."
Coset, who'd had a sexual relationship with the victim, was accused of shooting Bulaoro twice in the head and stabbing him 44 times.
"When you killed our son, you killed us too," the victim's mother, Josephine Bulaoro, said in court Friday.
She described her son as smart, intelligent and caring, and she recalled the time he offered to pay for a cruise for his parents.
"You're a monster, and I want you to be in prison for the rest of your life," she said to Coset.
A letter was read in court by Bulaoro's brother, John, who described his older brother as someone who was kind to others, smiled at simple things and dedicated his life to serving his country.
"He had many plans and a great future ahead of him," he wrote.
In 2012, John Bulaoro wrote, his brother had opened an affordable facility in Fallbrook for seniors with dementia. It closed because of his death.
"I understand that nothing I do will bring my brother back," the brother wrote. "Sometimes how I wish I could give my own life just to bring him back. This evil guy deserves what's coming to him."
Alvin Bulaoro, 24, was last seen Dec. 21, 2012. His family reported him missing two days later.
On Jan. 3, 2013, Bulaoro's brother found the victim's Toyota 4Runner in the parking lot of a Fallbrook grocery store. Bulaoro's body was inside a sleeping bag in the backseat.
Sheriff's detectives learned in cellphone records that Bulaoro had planned to meet with someone the day he disappeared. They ran down the mystery person's cell phone number, but it was a pre-paid cellphone purchased with cash.
Investigators obtained surveillance of a man buying the phone, but had little else, according to the brief. Then they checked into the sleeping bag, and learned that it was a style sold at Camp Pendleton.
It turned out that one had been sold on base in the hours before Bulaoro disappeared. Surveillance video showed the buyer -- who looked like the same man who'd bought the pre-paid phone, according to a trial brief filed by prosecutor David Uyar.
This time, the mystery man had paid with a credit card. That same card had been used later that day to pay for a Fallbrook motel room.
The motel bill included an additional $100 charge for damage to the room, including a missing comforter and a large pool of blood -- later identified as Bulaoro's.
The room had been cleaned up by the time detectives arrived weeks later. But they found Bulaoro's blood under the carpet and on the padding, as well as on the walls, ceiling and furniture.
According to Uyar, messages between Coset and Bulaoro indicated they already had a sexual relationship when they met up in the Fallbrook parking lot.
Authorities arrested Coset -- then a 23-year-old Marine corporal -- outside his barracks in February 2013.
In his car, they found the gun used in the attack on Bulaoro. In his barracks room, they found a journal in which Coset appeared to have confessed to the killing.
One section read: "My name is Kevin Coset. I am 23 years old and currently serving in Marine Corps. Over the past few years my life has been heading in a strange direction. Tonight I had to kill for the third time.
"It was a guy named Alvin Bulaoro out of Fallbrook."
Coset wrote that he had to do it to "survive in my fight" against something he called "the Musgrove organization," which he said had plotted against him for years, had entered his mind and stolen his intelligence, according to the trial brief.
Early on in the criminal proceedings, Coset served as his own attorney. He was later deemed mentally incompetent to stand trial and was sent to a state hospital.
When he was later found to be competent, Coset was sent back to San Diego County to face trial. Last year -- following another psychiatric evaluation -- he was again granted permission to represent himself.
This article is written by Gary Warth and Teri Figueroa from The San Diego Union-Tribune and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.