A Multnomah County circuit judge sentenced 31-year-old Allen Coe to life in prison after Coe pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, attempted murder and burglary on Friday for the October 2020 fatal stabbing of Portland entrepreneur Matt Choi.
Hours before, on Oct. 24, Choi and his friends were celebrating his birthday in his Southeast Portland apartment, court records say. The murder occurred in the early morning hours of Oct. 25 during a home invasion of Choi’s apartment.
“The sound of Mr. Choi’s apartment door softly closing a few minutes before 2:00am on October 25, 2020 startled his girlfriend,” prosecutors wrote in December 2020. “She was resting on the bed of the small studio and Mr. Choi was sleeping nearby on a sectional couch. [His girlfriend] saw a shadowy figure dart from the entryway towards the bathroom, and believing there was an intruder in the apartment, she reacted in fear and sought to wake Mr. Choi.”
Choi’s girlfriend grabbed her phone and yelled to the intruder that she was calling 911, prosecutors said. The intruder then “sprang” toward her, which is when she saw he was armed with a knife. (WW is withholding her name because she is a victim.)
“At that moment, Mr. Choi grabbed the intruder from behind and the two men struggled as the intruder began repeatedly stabbing Mr. Choi,” prosecutors said. Choi was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital. A medical examiner determined the cause of death was multiple stab wounds to the chest.
Investigators determined that Coe was also a tenant in the same building. According to a probable cause affidavit, police found a green backpack belonging to Coe in the communal trash room right next to Choi’s apartment. That backpack allegedly contained two Social Security cards belonging to a pair who also lived in that same building and who had reported their Social Security cards stolen about 10 days prior.
While Coe spoke to detectives outside, charging documents say, he spit on the sidewalk. Police gathered a saliva sample containing Coe’s DNA, which investigators later detected on Choi’s hands.
“There was no other DNA detected from any other person,” prosecutors said. “Investigators have no explanation other than a homicidal attack to explain why the defendant’s DNA is on both of Matthew Choi’s hands.”
In addition to the murder charge, Coe pleaded guilty to one count each of first-degree burglary and first-degree attempted murder. For those charges, the judge sentenced him to 18 months and 90 months in prison, respectively. Those sentences will run concurrent with his life sentence.
After 25 years, Coe may be eligible for parole.
Choi, 33, co-founded the popular kimchi brand Choi’s Kimchi Company. He and his mother, Chong Choi, began selling homemade kimchi at the Portland State University Farmers Market in 2011, before probiotic foods were prevalent in the United States.
“I woke up the morning of the market and she had made 150 jars,” he told WW in 2018. “I got super-pissed because it seemed like waste of effort. But by noon we were sold out. I remember thinking, ‘She’s right. We really have something here.’”