At the time of Coleman's execution, there were approximately 3,700
convicted murderers on death row in the United States. Coleman was
the only one with death sentences from 3 different states: Indiana,
Ohio, and Illinois.
These sentences were the culmination of a 1984
midwestern crime spee by Coleman and accomplice Deborah Brown that
included up to 8 murders, 7 rapes, 3 kidnappings, and 14 armed
On July 11, 1984, 15 year old Tonnie Storey left her home in
Cincinnati to attend a computer class at a junior high school. Eight
days later, her bound and partially decomposed body was discovered
in an abandoned building.
The cause of death was strangulation. A classmate
testified and identified Coleman in the company of a woman talking
to the victim on July 11th, when she was last seen alive.
A fingerprint from the scene also matched
Coleman's. Both Coleman and Brown received death sentences. On
appeal, Coleman's death sentence was set aside due to ineffective
counsel. Brown's death sentence was commuted in 1991 by Ohio
Governor Celeste as he was leaving office.
Coleman and Brown bicycled into Norwood, Ohio, on
July 13, 1984. About three hours later, they drove away in Harry
Walters' car, leaving Harry Walters unconscious and Marlene Walters
dead. Harry Walters survived.
He testified that Coleman and Brown inquired
about a camping trailer he had been offering for sale. Upon inviting
Coleman and Brown into his home, he sat on the couch discussing the
trailer title. Coleman picked up a wooden candlestick and, after
admiring it, hit Harry Walters on the back of the head, knocking him
A few hours later, Sheri Walters came home from
work and at the bottom of the basement steps, she found her father,
barely alive, and her mother, dead. Both had ligatures around their
throats and electrical cords tied around their bare feet. Her
mother's hands were bound behind her back and her father's hands
were handcuffed behind his back. Her mother's head was covered with
a bloody sheet.
7 year old Tamika and her 9 year old niece, Annie, were walking back
from the candy store to their home when they were confronted by
Debra Denise Brown and Coleman. Brown and Coleman convinced them to
walk into the woods to play a game. Once there, they removed
Tamika's shirt and tore it into small strips which they used to bind
and gag the children.
When Tamika began to cry, Brown held her nose and
mouth while Coleman stomped on her chest. After carrying Tamika a
short distance away, Annie was forced to perform oral sex on both
Brown and Coleman, then Coleman raped her. Brown and Coleman then
choked her until she was unconscious. When she awoke, they were gone.
Tamika was found dead in the bushes nearby,
strangled with an elastic strip of bedsheet. The same fabric was
later found in the apartment shared by Coleman and Brown. Annie
received cuts so deep that her intestines were protruding into her
vagina. Evidence of a remarkably similar murder in Ohio was admitted
Juanita Wheat, the victim's mother, testified that at the time of
the offense she resided in Kenosha, Wisconsin, with her daughter,
Vernita, and her seven- year-old son, Brandon.
At the end of April or beginning of May of 1984,
the defendant introduced himself to Juanita as Robert Knight, showed
her an identification card bearing that name, and told her he lived
two blocks away. Coleman visited often and ate dinner with the
family over the next few weeks.
On May 29, 1984, Juanita allowed Vernita to
accompany Coleman to his apartment "to pick up a stereo system."
They never returned.
A customer at the local "400 Club" testified that
a black man and Vernita entered the establishment at approximately
11:35 p.m. on May 29, 1984, and the man immediately used the
telephone. A few minutes later a cab arrived to pick them up.
On June 19, 1984, the body Vernita Wheat was
discovered in the bathroom of an abandoned building in Waukegan,
Illinois. A fingerprint from Coleman was taken from the scene.
State ex rel. Coleman v. City of Cincinnati, 1990 WL 59257
(Ohio App. 1990) (FOIA).
State v. Coleman, 1987 WL 18124 (Ohio App. 1987) (Direct
State v. Coleman, 544 N.E.2d 622 (Ohio 1989) (Direct Appeal-Storey).
Coleman v. Mitchell, 268 F.3d 417 (6th Cir. 2001) (Habeas).
State v. Coleman, 1986 WL 14070 (Ohio App. 1986) (Direct
State v. Coleman, 525 N.E.2d 792 (Ohio 1988) (Direct Appeal-Walters).
Coleman v. Mitchell, 244 F.3d 533 (6th Cir. 2001) (Habeas).
Coleman v. State, 558 N.E.2d 1059 (Ind. August 24, 1990) (Direct
Coleman v. Indiana, 111 S. Ct. 2912 (1991) (Cert. denied) .
Coleman v. State, 703 N.E.2d 1022 (Ind. 1988) (PCR) .
Coleman v. Indiana, 120 S.Ct. 1717, 146 L.Ed.2d 389 (2000) (Cert.
Coleman v. State, 741 N.E.2d 697 (Ind. December 29, 2000) (On
People v. Coleman, 544 N.E.2d 330 (Ill. 1989) (Direct Appeal).
People v. Coleman, 660 N.E.2d 919 (Ill. 1995) (PCR).
Coleman v. Ryan, 196 F.3d 793 (7th Cir. 1999) (Habeas).
Filet mignon with mushroom gravy, biscuits and gravy, fried chicken,
French fries, broccoli with cheese, collard greens, onion rings,
corn bread, a salad, sweet potato pie, butter pecan ice cream and
"The Lord is my shepherd," which he repeated over and over again.
Alton Coleman was twice sentenced to death for
Cincinnati-area slayings in 1984 in a killing rampage in which he
also terrorized Dayton. The slayings were part of a crime campaign
that also led to death sentences for Coleman in Indiana and
Coleman of Waukegan, Ill., was sentenced to die
in Ohio for the strangulation of Tonnie Storey, 15, of Cincinnati
and the beating death of Marlene Walters, 44, of Norwood, a suburb
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals threw out the sentence in the Storey case after
concluding Coleman’s attorneys did not adequately represent him in a
The court, however, upheld Coleman’s conviction.
The court earlier had upheld Coleman’s death sentence for Marlene
Walters’ death. Coleman’s attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme
Court to review the Walters ruling.
They argue that since the same two attorneys
represented Coleman in both Ohio cases, it is inconsistent that his
sentence be overturned in one case and upheld in the other.
Coleman also was sentenced to die in Indiana for
killing Tamika Turks, 7, of Gary, Ind., and in Illinois for slaying
Vernita Wheat, 9, of Kenosha, Wis. Vernita's body was found in
Coleman's common-law wife, Debra Denise Brown,
traveled with him during the killing rampage and was sentenced to
death in the Storey and Turks killings.
Coleman briefly surfaced in Dayton in July 1984
after he and Brown kidnapped Cumberland, Ky., college associate
professor Oline Carmical. He was freed from the trunk of a car near
McCabe Park after a passer-by heard noises from the vehicle.
Carmical was not injured.
That same morning, Coleman beat and robbed an
elderly couple, Millard and Katheryn Gay. Her life was spared when
Coleman's gun misfired. Coleman tied up and robbed another Dayton
couple, Dallas and Flossie Davis, that same day.
Former Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste in 1991 commuted
Brown's sentence to life for the Storey murder. Brown is at Ohio's
prison for women in Marysville and still faces the death sentence in
Celeste had said a report from his staff showed
Brown was retarded, suffered from childlike emotional development
and had a "master-slave" relationship with Coleman. Brown and
Coleman were accused of committing eight random killings in six
states during the summer of 1984.
They were captured in Evanston, Ill. Brown and
Coleman also were the prime suspects in the kidnap-murder of Donna
Williams, 25, of Gary, Indiana. Her body was found in Detroit. They
were never tried for the crime.
Clark County Prosecuting
7 year old Tamika and her 9 year old niece, Annie,
were walking back from the candy store to their home when they were
confronted by Debra Denise Brown and Coleman. Brown and Coleman
convinced them to walk into the woods to play a game.
Once there, they removed Tamika's shirt and tore
it into small strips which they used to bind and gag the children.
When Tamika began to cry, Brown held her nose and mouth while
Coleman stomped on her chest.
After carrying Tamika a short distance away,
Annie was forced to perform oral sex on both Brown and Coleman, then
Coleman raped her. Brown and Coleman then choked her until she was
unconscious. When she awoke, they were gone.
Tamika was found dead in the bushes nearby,
strangled with an elastic strip of bedsheet. The same fabric was
later found in the apartment shared by Coleman and Brown.
Annie received cuts so deep that her intestines
were protruding into her vagina. Evidence of a remarkably similar
murder in Ohio was admitted at trial.
These acts proved to be part of a midwestern
crime spee by Coleman and Brown that included up to 8 murders, 7
rapes, 3 kidnappings , and 14 armed robberies. Coleman has
accumulated death sentences in Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio.
Coleman Put to Death
By Marie McCain - Cincinnati Enquirer
April 26, 2002
Lucasville - Convicted serial killer Alton
Coleman, who along with girlfriend, Debra Denise Brown, cut a
murderous swath across at least four Midwest states during the
summer of 1984, was executed by the state of Ohio today.
He was pronounced dead at 10:13 a.m. Mr. Coleman
was executed for the 1984 beating death of Norwood resident Marlene
Walters. His last words were: "The Lord is my shepherd," which he
repeated over and over again.
Prison officials said Mr. Coleman had a fitful
night before the execution. "I don't know if it was from indigestion
or nervousness," said Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio
Department of Rehabilitation and Correction. Mr. Coleman ordered the
largest final dinner of any condemned inmate to date.
He declined to shave or shower when he awoke
between 4 and 5 a.m., prison officials said. He ate a single piece
of toast. Two sisters and a brother, who were supposed to attend
final visits with the 46-year-old Illinois native, did not show.
Prison officials say Mr. Coleman spent the time
Thursday evening and early Friday with his attorneys and his
spiritual advisers. It was believed that his family had "transportation
problems." He was baptized Tuesday. He is a follower of Dallas-based
televangelist T.D. Jakes. "He appears to have accepted his fate,"
said Andrea Dean, an ODRC spokeswoman.
About 16 anti-death penalty protesters were
gathered outside the Southern Ohio Correction Facility in Lucasville
as the execution began. Six Cincinnati protesters, including Sister
Alice Gerdeman, coordinator of the Intercommunity Justice and Peace
Center in Over-the-Rhine, were part of the group.
On Thursday, Mr. Coleman requested a final dinner
of filet mignon, sauteed mushrooms, sweet potato pie with whipped
cream, butter pecan ice cream, biscuits with brown gravy, broccoli
with cheese, french fries, cherry coke, a green lettuce salad with
French dressing, collard greens, onion rings, fried chicken breast
and corn bread. Mr. Wilkinson said Friday that in lieu of filet
mignon Mr. Coleman was served a New York strip steak. All the food
came from the prison kitchen, except the ice cream.
Alton Coleman (November 6, 1955 – April
26, 2002) was an African-American serial killer. He was executed by
the state of Ohio for the murder of 44-year-old Marlene Walters of
Norwood, Ohio during a six-state killing spree in 1984.
Coleman received four death sentences from three
Midwest states: Illinois, Ohio (two times), and in Indiana. At the
time of his execution he was the only condemned person in the
country to have death sentences in three states. His partner-in-crime,
Debra Denise Brown, was originally slated to be executed in
Ohio, but in 1991 her death sentence was commuted to life in prison
by Governor Richard Celeste. She still has a death sentence for the
murder the duo committed in Indiana. However, Brown is serving her
sentence, without possibility of parole, in the Ohio Reformatory for
Women in Marysville, Ohio.
During the summer of 1984, the 28-year-old Coleman
and Brown, who was 21 at the time, embarked upon a killing spree
through several Midwestern states.
By the time the couple were caught, Coleman was
charged or wanted for questioning in assaults on at least 20 people in
13 separate attacks, including seven murders. Almost all of the
victims were African-American like Coleman and Brown, but authorities
said that was simply because the duo knew they would blend better in
the black community, and that there was no racial motive in the
Background of Coleman and Brown
Coleman was a middle-school drop-out who lived
with his 73-year-old grandmother in Waukegan, Illinois, and who was
well-known to the Illinois law enforcement community. The son of a
prostitute who would often have sex with customers in his presence,
he was charged with sex crimes six times between 1973 and 1983. Two
of the cases were dismissed, and Coleman pleaded guilty to lesser
charges in two and was twice acquitted. He claimed to "like it in
the butt", and Coleman was scheduled to go on trial in Illinois on
charges stemming from the rape of a 14-year-old girl when he fled
and began his indiscriminate killing.
One of 11 children, Brown was borderline mentally
retarded, suffered head trauma as a child, and was described as a "dependent
personality." She was engaged to another man when she met Coleman in
1983, but left her family and moved in with him shortly afterward.
Although a willing participant in the assaults and murders, Brown was
never violent or in trouble with the law until she met up with Coleman.
In commuting Brown's sentence, Governor Celeste
cited her low IQ scores, ranging from 59 to 74, and her "master-slave"
relationship with Coleman. Brown was one of eight Ohio death row
inmates to have her sentence commuted by Celeste, a staunch opponent
of capital punishment, a week before he left office. Four of those
whose sentences were commuted were the state's only female death row
Despite her non-violent history before the spree,
Brown remains unrepentant for her acts. During the sentencing phase of
her first Ohio trial, Brown sent a note to the judge which read in
part: "I killed the bitch and I don't give a damn. I had fun out of it."
Details of the Murders
Their crimes began in May 1984 when Coleman
befriended Juanita Wheat who lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and was the
mother of nine-year-old Vernita. On May 29, 1984, Coleman abducted
Vernita to Waukegan, Illinois. Her body was discovered on June 19,
1984 in an abandoned building, four blocks from Coleman's
grandmother's apartment. The body was badly decomposed and the cause
of death was ligature strangulation.
On May 31, 1984, Coleman befriended Robert
Carpenter in Waukegan, Illinois, and spent the night at his home. The
next day he borrowed Carpenter's car to go to the store and never
In June 1984, Coleman and Brown appeared in Gary,
Indiana, where they encountered two young girls, 9-year-old Annie and
7 year old Tamika Turks. Tamika's partially decomposed body was
discovered on June 19, 1984. The cause of death was ligature
strangulation. Annie survived, even though she was sexually assaulted
by both Coleman and Brown.
The day Tamika's body was found, Coleman befriended
Donna Williams, 25, of Gary, Indiana. On July 11, 1984, Williams'
badly decomposed body was discovered in Detroit, about a half-mile
from where her car was found. The cause of death was again ligature
On June 28, 1984, Coleman and Brown entered the
home of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer Jones of Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
Palmer was handcuffed by Coleman and then badly beaten. Mrs. Jones was
also attacked. Coleman ripped the Jones' phone from the wall and stole
their money and car.
The day after Independence Day 1984, Coleman and
Brown came to Toledo, Ohio, where Coleman befriended Virginia Temple,
the mother of several children. Her eldest child was Rachelle, aged
nine. When Virginia dropped out of communication with relatives, they
became concerned about the children and entering the home found the
young children alone and frightened. Virginia's and Rachelle's bodies
were discovered in a crawl space. A bracelet was missing from the home
and later was found in Cincinnati under the body of Tonnie Storey. The
cause of death of both Virginia and Rachelle was strangulation.
The same morning as the murders of Virginia and
Rachelle, Coleman and Brown entered the home of Frank and Dorothy
Duvendack of Toledo where Coleman proceeded to bind the couple with
appliance and phone cords which had been cut. Coleman and Brown took
money and the Duvendack's car. One of Mrs. Duvendack's watches was
stolen and found later under another victim.
Later that same day, Coleman and Brown appeared at
the home of the Reverend and Mrs. Millard Gay of Dayton, Ohio. They
stayed with them in Dayton and then accompanied them to Lockwood,
Ohio, on July 9, to a religious service. On July 10, the Gays dropped
off Coleman and Brown in downtown Cincinnati.
By this time, Coleman had come to the attention of
the FBI, which on July 12, 1984, added him to its Ten Most Wanted List
as a "special addition". Coleman was just the 10th person since the
initiation of the list in 1950 to merit inclusion in such a manner.
Coleman and Brown bicycled into Norwood, Ohio, on
July 13 at about 9:30 a.m. Less than three hours later they drove away
in Harry Walters' car, leaving Harry Walters unconscious and his wife,
Harry Walters survived. He testified that Coleman
and Brown inquired about a camper he had put up for sale. Walters sat
on the couch as he and Coleman discussed the trailer title. Coleman
picked up a wooden candlestick and, after admiring it, hit Harry
Walters on the back of the head. The force of the blow broke the
candlestick and drove a chunk of bone against Mr. Walters' brain. From
that point on, Mr. Walters remembered little else.
Sheri Walters, Harry and Marlene's daughter, came
home from work at about 3:45 p.m. and at the bottom of the basement
steps, she found her father, barely alive, and her mother, dead. Both
had ligatures around their throats and electrical cords tied around
their bare feet. Her mother's hands were bound behind her back and her
father's hands were handcuffed behind his back. Her mother's head was
covered with a bloody sheet.
The coroner indicated Marlene Walters had been
struck on the head approximately 20 to 25 times. Twelve lacerations,
some of which were made with a pair of vice grips, covered her face
and scalp. The back of her skull was smashed to pieces. Parts of her
skull and brain were missing.
The living room hallway, and basement, were
splattered with blood. Fragments of a broken soda bottle, bearing
Coleman's fingerprints, were found in the living room. Strands of
Marlene Walters' hair were found on a blood-stained magazine rack
located in the living room. Bloody footprints, made by two different
kinds of shoes, were found in the basement.
The family car, a red Plymouth Reliant, was gone.
Money, jewelry, and shoes had been stolen. Left behind were two
bicycles, clothes and shoes.
Two days later, the Plymouth showed up abandoned in
Kentucky. The couple then kidnapped Oline Carmichael Jr., a
Williamsburg, Kentucky, college professor and drove back to Dayton
with their victim locked in the trunk of the car. On July 17, in
Dayton, they abandoned this stolen vehicle and Carmichael was rescued
Coleman and Brown reappeared at the home of Millard
and Kathryn Gay. The Reverend Gay recognized Coleman, who was by this
time the subject of a huge nationwide manhunt, and he and his wife
were accosted with guns. The Reverend Gay asked Coleman, "Why you want
to do us like that, like this," and according to Gay, Coleman
responded: "I'm not going to kill you, but we generally kills them
where we go." Coleman and Brown took their car and headed back toward
On the way back home, they take time to steal
another car, killing the 77-year-old man who owned it.
Capture and Trial
On July 17, 1984, Alton Coleman became the 388th
fugitive listed by the FBI on the Ten Most Wanted list.
On July 20, 1984 in Evanston, illinois, someone
from Coleman’s old neighborhood pulled up to a red light. As he
waited for the light to change Coleman and Brown crossed the street
in front of his car. He only knew Coleman casually but did recognize
him. As Coleman and Brown continued walking west the witness drove
north to a gas station where the police were notified.
The information was dispatched and a description of
the two was broadcasted. As officers pulled into the area a detective
saw Coleman and Brown sitting on probable bleachers in an empty Mason
Park; but noted they were wearing different tee shirts. The detective
informed the other units just as two sergeants were driving by the
park. As they heard the broadcast they turned and saw the two. As
Coleman was approached the officers observed Brown walking away from
Coleman toward the rear of the park.
The detective joined the two sergeants and Coleman
was approached for questioning. As Coleman was being interviewed, two
other officers stopped Brown as she tried to exit the park. She was
searched and a gun was found in her purse. Coleman had no
identification and denied he was Alton Coleman. Both Coleman and Brown
were taken into custody without incident and transported to the
Evanston Police Department where both were identified by fingerprints.
In the police station Coleman was strip searched
and a steak knife was found between two pair of sweat socks he was
wearing. When taken into custody they had a shopping bag full of
different tee shirts and caps. It was learned as the two walked they
would stop every three to four blocks to change shirts and caps.
A week after they were arrested, more than 50 law
enforcement officials from Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana,
Kentucky and Ohio met to plan their strategy for prosecuting Coleman
and Brown. Michigan, which does not have the death penalty, was
quickly ruled out as the place to begin and eventually Ohio was given
the first shot at the alleged spree killers.
"We are convinced that prosecution (in Ohio) can
most quickly and most likely result in the swiftest imposition of the
death penalty against Alton Coleman and Debra Brown", U.S. Attorney
Dan K. Webb said.
Appeals and Execution
Ohio was successful in convicting Coleman and Brown
on a pair of aggravated murder charges (In May 1985 for the murder of
Tonnie Storey, and in June 1985 for the murder of Marlene Walters), as
well as a plethora of other violent crimes. They were both sentenced
to be executed and the lengthy appeals process began. Coleman's case
went to the United States Supreme Court several times between 1985 and
2002, but his numerous arguments that his conviction and death
sentence were unconstitutional failed to sway the justices.
By April 2002, time had run out for Coleman. His
last-ditch effort to avoid lethal injection was unsuccessful when on
April 25, 2002, the Ohio Supreme Court rejected a claim by Coleman's
attorneys that the state's plan to accommodate the large number of
victims and survivors who wanted to view the execution would turn it
into a "spectator sport". There were so many victims and survivors who
were allowed to witness the execution that prison officials had been
forced to set up a closed-circuit viewing outside the death house.
For his final meal, Coleman ordered a well-done
filet mignon smothered with onions, fried chicken breasts, a salad
with French dressing, sweet-potato pie topped with whipped cream,
french fries, collard greens, onion rings, cornbread, broccoli with
melted cheese and biscuits and gravy. He washed it all down with a
On April 26, 2002, reciting "The Lord is my
shepherd", Alton Coleman died by lethal injection in the death chamber
at the state prison in Lucasville, Ohio.
Reginald Wilkinson, director of the Ohio Department
of Rehabilitation and Correction, said Coleman did not convey remorse
for the killings
Coleman v. Mitchell, United States Court
of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, 268 F.3d 417; 2001 U.S. App.
LEXIS 21639; 2001 FED App. 0367P (6th Cir.), October 10, 2001
In re Coleman, Supreme Court of Ohio, 95
Ohio St. 3d 284; 2002 Ohio 1804; 767 N.E.2d 677; 2002 Ohio LEXIS
916, April 19, 2002
State v. Brown, Supreme Court of Ohio,
38 Ohio St. 3d 305; 528 N.E.2d 523; 1988 Ohio LEXIS 289, August
State v. Coleman, Supreme Court of Ohio,
37 Ohio St. 3d 286; 525 N.E.2d 792; 1988 Ohio LEXIS 212, July 6,
State v. Coleman, Court of Appeals of
Ohio, First Appellate District, Hamilton County, 1987 Ohio App.
LEXIS 9048, October 7, 1987
Clock Runs Out on Alton Coleman
Ludlow - Cincinnati Post
April 26, 2002
LUCASVILLE - Alton Coleman, who left eight people
dead in a murderous rampage through six Midwestern states, was
executed today by lethal injection. He was pronounced dead at 10:13
Coleman, 46, who was baptized three days ago, was
put to death at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility for the
savage beating death of Marlene Walters, 44, in her Norwood home on
July 13, 1984.
In a holding cell 13 steps from the death chamber,
Coleman spent his last hours scribbling notes to family and friends,
meeting with his spiritual advisers and watching videotapes recorded
by an evangelical Christian minister.
Prison spokesman Andrea Dean said Coleman woke up
about 5:15 a.m. after watching television and listening to music
late into the night. He had expected that his two sisters and a
brother would visit with him in the death house this morning, but
they did not show up.
Sixteen witnesses related to Coleman's victims,
including Harry Walters - who was attacked along with his wife but
survived the vicious beating - arrived this morning to watch in
person and on closed-circuit TV as Ohio executed the only man in U.S.
history sentenced to death in three states.
After an 0-for-6 showing in the courts on
Thursday in a last-gasp bid to keep their client alive, Coleman's
public defenders told the office of Ohio Attorney General Betty
Montgomery there was a less than 1-percent chance they would file
Coleman, of Waukegan, Ill., became one of the
most notorious serial killers to ever stalk the Midwest in murdering
four adults and four children during a six-week reign of brutality
that wove through Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and
That rampage took him to Lexington in mid-July
where Mrs. Walters' auto was found abandoned in a cornfield near
Lexington July 15, two days after her murder. On July 17, Oline
Carmicalof Williamsburg was kidnapped in Lexington and left in the
trunk of his car, which was found in Dayton, Ohio.
Coleman, who was black, largely preyed on other
African Americans, with Mrs. Walters his only white murder victim.
Coleman also was convicted of the rape and strangulation murder of
Tonnie Storey, 15, of Mohawk, during his stay in the Cincinnati area.
Coleman made no request of prison officials to
contact Debra Denise Brown, his girlfriend and companion in crime
who is serving life sentences for the murders of Mrs. Walters and
Miss Storey and who faces execution in Indiana.
Coleman arrived at the death house in Lucasville
shortly after 10 a.m. Thursday for what would be Ohio's fourth
execution - after a 36- year hiatus in capital punishment - since
1999. ''He had a very peaceful evening. He appears to have accepted
what lies ahead for him,'' Ms. Dean said this morning.
Prison officials served him his final meal last
night, the largest yet ordered at Lucasville by a condemned man. His
menu included a filet mignon with mushroom gravy, biscuits and gravy,
fried chicken, French fries, broccoli with cheese, collard greens,
onion rings, corn bread, a salad, sweet potato pie, butter pecan ice
cream and cherry cola. He ate part of the meal at 4 p.m. and snacked
on it through the evening. He declined breakfast this morning,
saying he was still full from dinner.
In motions objecting to the closed-circuit TV
broadcast of his death to the large number of witnesses to
ineffective legal counsel, Coleman and his lawyers failed to win a
reprieve in six attempts before four courts - the 10th District Ohio
Court of Appeals, the Ohio Supreme Court, the 6th Circuit U.S. Court
of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court.
Harry Walters, who was to watch in person with
sons-in-law Michael Blunt and Scott Lillard as Coleman died from a
$43 dose of generic chemicals, had said ''execution is the solution''
to winning the justice and closure he feels his family long has been
Coleman and Ms. Brown were invited into the
Walters' home after they pretended to be interested in purchasing a
camping trailer posted with a ''for sale'' sign outside their Floral
Coleman's other murder victims were small girls
in Waukegan, Ill., and Gary, Ind., an Indiana woman kidnapped and
taken to Detroit, a mother and her daughter in Toledo and an elderly
man in Indianapolis.
Relatives of those victims, plus Cincinnatians
Harry Storey and Paulette Anderson, the father and aunt of Miss
Storey, were to watch Coleman's death on two TVs in J Block adjacent
to the death house at Lucasville.
Coleman and his lawyers unsuccessfully pleaded
for mercy from the courts and Gov. Bob Taft, contending his violence
was the outgrowth of growing up in a brothel where he was abused and
brain damage he suffered in the womb from his prostitute mother's
alcohol and drug abuse.
Coleman denied he killed Mrs. Walters, with Ms.
Brown confessing to her murder, but the Hamilton County Common Pleas
Court jury refused to buy their story.
Ms. Brown was sentenced to death for the Storey
murder, but her sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in early
1991 by outgoing Gov. Richard Celeste. She remains imprisoned at the
Ohio Reformatory for Women at Marysville.
The Crime Library
"Alton Coleman & Debra Brown: Odyssey of Mayhem,"
by Mark Gribben.
Maybe people shouldn’t be surprised that a boy
who had to endure the nickname “Pissy” because of a tendency to wet
his pants would grow up to be one of America’s most savage spree
And it certainly didn’t help that Pissy would go
to prison on a robbery charge and emerge two years later with a
tendency to dress in women’s clothing and a desire for rough sex.
Whatever the reasons, Alton Coleman and his
girlfriend Debra Denise Brown will go down in history as a short-lived
U.S. version of Great Britain’s multiple sex-slayers Myra Hindley
and Ian Brady.
The story of Coleman and Brown begins in the mid-1970s,
takes place in five states and involves one of the largest manhunts
in recent history.
It is a tale of American criminal justice that
stands among the most depraved and cruel incidents of the modern age
-- Coleman and Brown demonstrated a lack of respect for human life
that shocked even hardened FBI agents and police officers.
In less than two months, they assaulted, raped
and murdered their way from Illinois to Michigan and down to
Kentucky before authorities were finally able to capture then.
Coleman and Brown are behind bars, each awaiting
a date with the executioner, but the evil they wrought upon their
innocent victims lives on to this day. The duo have used every
avenue of judicial appeal possible and seek mercy from the courts –
mercy they rarely showed when they prowled the Midwest.
With every new court ruling or delay, dozens of
survivors relive the horror of their encounters with the murderous
pair of lovers.
A child victim who managed to avoid death at
their hands vows that she will never marry because of her inability
to trust and questions whether she is still “pure”. Another survivor
battles drug addiction, suicide attempts, and post-traumatic stress
A mother and father must adjust to the fact that
Coleman will never stand trial for their daughter’s murder and they
may never find out the circumstances surrounding her slaughter.
Coleman’s family, on the other hand, consider
themselves victims – not of their deadly relative, but of a system
that they believe persecutes and plans to kill an innocent man.
Debra Brown's mother continues to rue the day her daughter met Alton
Brown was “a good girl,” unknown to police before
she fell under Coleman’s spell, but by the time the pair were caught,
it was clear that Brown was just as vicious and murderous as her
Probably what is most disturbing about Alton
Coleman is that he shouldn’t have been on the streets to begin his
rape- robbery -murder spree. Over and over Coleman managed to
manipulate the judicial system in his favor, beating sexual assault
charges on several occasions.
Frustrated prosecutors and lawmen knew they had a
monster on their hands, but could only stand by helplessly as jury
after jury let the him walk, confident the system had “worked” to
free an innocent man.
A Boy Called "Pissy"
Born in Waukegan, an Illinois town about a half-hour’s
drive north of Chicago, Alton Coleman endured the taunts of
schoolchildren who teased him because he so often wet his pants.
They christened the mildly retarded boy “Pissy.”
Family members and law enforcement officials who
had dealings with Coleman since his teen years said Alton was slow
to show emotion and generally kept to himself.
Clearly alienated from his peers, Coleman had a
reputation for his strong sex drive – reportedly he was bisexual and
willing to engage in sex any time, any place with anyone. Said one
friend of Coleman’s late mother: “He knew he was different…even as a
young child. “As he grew up, (Coleman) was deeply into insidious
kinds of sexual gratification.”
Coleman first came to the notice of police as a
teenager when he was picked up for breaking windows in his Waukegan
housing project. He was quickly labeled as a troublemaker, but for
the most part, his crimes were of the petty sort.
There was little indication to authorities of the
mayhem to come. Interestingly, property damage, often in the form of
arson, can be an indicator of serial murder tendencies. That is not
to say that every youngster who breaks windows or lights fires is
bound to be a serial killer, but only that many multiple murderers
committed similar acts as children.
On the way to becoming a serial killer, Coleman
gave the law many chances to put him away, but Alton was “smooth as
silk,” according to those who fought him in court. Lawmen said
Coleman put on a good appearance in court which often convinced
jurors that authorities had the wrong man.
Alton, according to friends, also relied upon the
supernatural to help him escape justice. He claimed that voodoo made
him invulnerable to attack by the law.
“He was good at conning jurors,” Waukegan Police
Lt. Marc Hansen told the Detroit Free Press in 1984 when Coleman and
Harris were hiding out in Detroit. “He tells a convincing story in
court. People are impressed with his testimony. He comes off as a
A prosecutor who watched Coleman beat a rape
charge agreed. “He knows what kind of case holds up in court and
which ones don’t,” said former U.S. attorney Fred Foreman. “He’s
been to the penitentiary. He’s a career criminal”
But when the façade wouldn’t work and voodoo god
Baron Samedi wasn’t listening, Coleman resorted to more common forms
of beating the rap, most notably witness intimidation. “It’s
difficult to get people in court to prove these charges because they
are sexual assault charges, they involve kids, they involve family
that don’t want to see him go to jail,” said Hansen.
In 1983, Coleman’s sister went to authorities and
told them her brother tried to rape her eight-year-old daughter.
Three weeks later, she went to court to have the charges dropped.
“It’s a misunderstanding,” she said. “A lot of families go through
that. It doesn’t make any difference now.”
The judge hearing the motion for dismissal was
astounded by the 25-year-old woman’s testimony “I think the woman as
she stands here today, is terrified of this man,” the judge said. He
called her account of the incident “completely implausible.” But in
the end, with no victim and no witnesses, the judge had no choice
but to free Alton Coleman and dismiss the charges.
Coleman’s rap sheet before his Midwestern spree
reads like a one-man sex crime wave. In 1973 he and an accomplice
kidnapped, robbed and raped an elderly woman.
She refused to testify about the rape and Coleman
served two years on the robbery charge. Three months after his
release from Joliet, Coleman was arrested for another rape. He was
acquitted but served time for a lesser charge. Four years after that
spell in the pen, Coleman was acquitted of rape.
A year later he was arrested for an attempted
rape – the charge was dismissed. In July, 1983 he was charged with
the rape of his niece. That charge was dismissed. In early 1984 he
was indicted for the knifepoint rape and murder of a suburban
Chicago girl whose mother was a friend of his.
Coleman learned he was wanted for that crime but
disappeared, kicking off his multi-state crime spree with his
girlfriend, Debra Brown.
Odyssey of Mayhem
Why Alton and Debra went underground is still a
mystery 15 years after they were arrested. Police blamed Coleman’s
“intense hatred of blacks,” but longtime friends dismissed that
reason as absurd.
The pair’s victims were mostly black because they
were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Coleman stayed in
traditionally black neighborhoods because they provided a place for
him to hide.
“That sounds so crazy to me,” said one Waukegan
public official who knew Coleman since “he was in diapers.” “Why
does he victimize blacks? Black neighborhoods are the logical place
for him to go. If he went into a white community, they would have
found him long ago.”
A friend of the family said Coleman could not
deal with his homosexual tendencies. “He used to dress up like a
woman a lot. It was well known that he had different habits than a
normal male,” the friend said.
Coleman is a classic “disorganized serial killer.”
He rarely stalked a particular victim, but instead lashed out at
whomever was nearby.
He used whatever tools he had handy to kill or
incapacitate his victims and there did not appear to be any ritual
to his violence.
What probably set him off was the realization
that he no longer had anything to lose. Perhaps the indictment on
the aggravated rape and murder charges – which could have brought
the death penalty – were enough to finally push him over the brink
to whatever madness prompts such violence.
While the pair was on the run, Coleman was
indicted on murder charges in Wisconsin and a federal warrant was
issued for his capture.
Regardless of the motivation, Coleman and Brown
began their spree on June 5, 1984 when the pair rented an apartment
in Gary, Ind. Coleman had been wanted by police since May 31 and
Debra Brown had been interrogated about his disappearance June 1.
The Spree Begins
The pair laid low for two weeks until June 18
when two young girls, Tamika Turks and her 9-year-old aunt
disappeared on their way to a candy store. Later that day, the 9-year-old
was found beaten and raped. Tamika was missing.
A day later, Tamika's badly ravaged body was
found in a wooded area in Gary. She had been raped and killed by
someone stomping on her chest.
The older girl was forced to watch as the pair
killed Tamika – Brown holding Tamika to the ground and covering her
nose and mouth and Coleman jumping on her chest and face until her
ribs fractured and punctured her vital organs.
The older girl then was forced to have sex with
both Brown and Coleman before being beaten about her head. To this
day the young woman suffers severe headaches and screaming fits.
“She will get to screaming and crying like
someone is hitting her on the back of the head,” said Mary Hilliard,
the child’s mother. Her injuries left the family with $15,000 in
medical bills, which were substantially, but not completely covered
LaVerne Turks, Tamika’s mother, was forced to
move to Minneapolis because the memories of Tamika in Gary, Indiana,
were too painful. “LaVerne’s gone. Tamika’s missing. My daughter is
having these problems. Our family will never be the same,” said
Hilliard, who attempted suicide shortly after her granddaughter’s
The same day Tamika's body was discovered, Donna
Williams, 25, was reported missing by her parents. Her car was
stolen, as well.
A week later, Williams’s car was found abandoned
in Detroit with a forged identification card featuring Brown’s
picture. Residents from the area said the car had been parked in the
alley since June 19.
Police in four states were now looking for the
pair, working on the assumption that Donna Williams had been
murdered, even though her body had not been found.
In the meantime, two days after Williams was
reported missing, a Detroit woman was kidnapped by a man and woman
whom she later identified as Coleman and Brown. She escaped while
driving the pair to Toledo by purposefully ramming her car into
Coleman and Brown were able to survive by
befriending good Samaritans and later turning on their friends,
authorities said. “We’ve come to the conclusion that Coleman and
Brown are staying with people they meet,” said FBI Special Agent
John Anthony in Detroit. “They spend a day or two with the people,
get a little money gambling with them and then assault and rob them
and steal their car.”
Detroit Crime Wave
While in Detroit, Coleman and Brown eluded police
while instigating a small, but violent, crime wave. Warrants for
their arrest were issued for the kidnapping and robbery of the 28-year-old
Detroit woman who managed to escape the killers, a June 28, 1984
robbery and beating of an elderly Dearborn Heights couple and the
June 30 robbery of two Detroit men.
By the time the deadly duo left Detroit, police
in Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan, as well as
federal authorities, were on the lookout.
Despite Coleman’s disorganized pattern of murder,
there were some similarities among the crimes – in every case the
cars stolen by Coleman and Brown were recovered within 12 hours.
When authorities were not able to locate a 1975
Buick stolen by the pair after they beat and robbed a 55-year-old
woman and her companion, they had good reason to suspect that
Coleman and Brown had left the Motor City.
Sadly, even though the pair had fled to Toledo,
the evidence of their crimes continued to surface. In an abandoned
house near Wayne State University in Detroit, the badly decomposed
body of Donna Williams was found on July 11. It was clear that she
hadn’t lived long after she arrived, as a hostage, in Detroit.
There will likely never be any closure – legal or
psychological – for the family of Donna Williams. When authorities
gathered to determine the best course of action against Coleman and
Brown, the Williams case was not tried.
“We chose to go with the strongest cases against
the two that would result in the death penalty,” said Lake County,
Indiana prosecutor Jack Crawford. “It appeared that Williams was
killed in Michigan, which does not have the death penalty.”
For Robert and Zenota Williams, Donna’s parents,
punishment is not foremost on their minds. “I will always wonder
what, exactly, happened,” Zenota Williams told the Detroit Free
Press in a retrospective on the spree three years later.
Three other homicides tied to the pair will also
probably not ever be tried: the slaying of 77-year-old Eugene Scott
of Indianapolis and the killings of Virginia Temple and her 10-year-old
daughter in Toledo.
Scott was suspected of being their last murder
victim because his car was found in Evanston, Ill. where they were
From Toledo, the pair continued south, stopping
long enough in Cincinnati to murder Marlene Waters, who was found
bludgeoned to death in the basement of her home.
Waters’ husband was badly beaten in the attack
and left for dead. Coleman and Brown stole the Waters’ car and
headed to Lexington, Ky., where they abandoned the car in a
In nearby Williamsburg, the duo kidnapped Oline
Carmical and drove to Dayton, Ohio leaving Carmical locked in the
trunk of his car. An elderly Dayton couple was found beaten and
gagged in their home after the fugitives stole their car. Another
Dayton couple reported to police that Coleman and Brown robbed them.
The trip from Tamika Turks’ murder to the crimes
in Indianapolis took less than a month, with the pair committing
felonies on the average of crime every other day. In all, the
murderous 53-day rampage – from the time Coleman raped and murdered
the 9-year-old in Kenosha, Wis., to the time they were arrested in
Illinois -- resulted in a slew of felonies: eight homicides, as many
as seven rapes, three kidnappings and 14 armed robberies.
Some time after the murders of the Temples and
Scott, Coleman and Brown returned to the Waukegan area. Their case
had inspired a great deal of notoriety across the country and
Coleman had recently been named as a “special addition” the FBI’s 10
Most Wanted list.
In becoming a special addition, Coleman joined
such notable felons as H. Rap Brown and Martin Luther King’s
murderer, James Earl Ray.
Coleman’s family aside, they had few friends left
after their spree and it wasn’t surprising that when an acquaintance
of Coleman’s saw the pair walking near Evanston, Ill., he would turn
them in. Authorities had been watching Evanston closely because of
Coleman’s known associates there and the fact that the duo had
rented an apartment in Evanston prior to fleeing to Gary.
Knowing that there were few criminals as
desperate as Coleman and Brown, authorities were cautious in making
Once police pinpointed their location – the pair
was spotted by undercover officers in a local park – state, local
and federal authorities began to converge on the couple.
Shortly before noon on July 20, 1984 Coleman and
Brown were watching a pick-up basketball game from the bleachers at
Mason Park on the west side of Evanston as officers began to
Coolly, as if he hadn’t a care in the world,
Coleman began walking away as plainclothes and uniformed cops neared.
Wearing a torn yellow shirt and sporting a short haircut unlike the
jheri-curl ‘do he wore in published photos, Coleman surrendered
peacefully when confronted. “You got the wrong man,” he told
arresting officers. He provided two aliases and Brown identified
herself as “Denise Johnson.”
She was carrying a loaded revolver and Coleman
had a long knife hidden in his boot, but neither went for their
“They looked like they did on TV,” said an 11-year-old
who witnessed the arrest. “The capture was quick and easy.”
Although there were some holes in the authorities’
investigation, it was clear that they had been expecting the two-person
crime wave to return to Evanston. Neighbors in the area said they
had heard for three weeks that Coleman and Brown would eventually
turn up there.
The mood of the neighbors was as jubilant as that
of police who clearly basked under the media spotlight. “There was a
community awareness about him,” said one neighbor. “He wasn’t going
to be able to come in here and snatch anybody. We were waiting for
Residents of the Mason Park area told the media
that Coleman looked tired and emaciated when arrested and they
speculated that the lethal duo had “just run out of steam.”
Law enforcement officials thought along similar
lines with one officer wondering if they had unconsciously wanted to
do so: Coleman had never worried about leaving fingerprints at his
crime scenes, and FBI agents said he was so lackadaisical it was
almost as if he was trying to leave a calling card.
Those same fingerprints would eventually do in
Alton Coleman. Despite his protests that officials had the wrong man,
Evanston police were able to positively identify the man arrested in
Mason Park as the man who left fingerprints at crime scenes in
Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Michigan and Kentucky.
Fingerprints on file with the FBI conclusively proved that the
suspects in custody were Coleman and Brown.
With Coleman and Brown in custody, the problem
fell to state and federal officials to untangle the slew of
accusations against the couple and to decide which cases to
prosecute. It was clear from the outset that the most punitive
states would have first shot at the pair.
That meant capital crimes committed in Michigan
and Wisconsin, which have no death penalty, would be tried last – if
at all. “We want him first,” said Lake County DA Fred Foreman. “I’ve
been in court with this man before and I want to bring him back.”
Brown and Coleman were separated by police and
Debra, easily the most wanted woman in the country, was advised of
her constitutional rights. She immediately invoked her right to
remain silent and asked to speak to an attorney.
In the Evanston police station, the FBI agent who
administered the Miranda warning continued to ask Brown questions
about her identity – things like her name, age, birth date, and
address, according to court documents. An Evanston detective
questioned Brown as well, seeking clues to an attack in his
jurisdiction for which the pair was suspected.
When the time came to transport Brown to the
federal lockup, she spoke with agents on the trip to Chicago.
Arriving at the federal building, she was once again advised of her
rights and she once again refused to sign a waiver. She did, however,
agree to talk to officers as long as she could stop when she wanted
Over the next two and a half hours, Brown
discussed the crime spree in detail, in effect confessing to many of
the crimes committed during the brief, but violent odyssey across
the upper Midwest.
When she finished, she once again asked to speak
with an attorney. No further inquiry was made until after Brown
spoke to a lawyer.
During trial, Brown’s attorney protested that her
Fifth Amendment right – the right against self-incrimination – was
violated because authorities continued to interrogate after she had
asked for counsel.
The trial court found that the Evanston detective
did violate her rights and the evidence from his questioning was
However, the confession given to federal
authorities in Chicago was used in the trial and with it conviction
was easily obtained.
Brown was sentenced to die for the murder of
Tamika Turks. Later, Brown was sentenced to die for the Cincinnati
murders, but she continued to be held on Indiana’s death row.
Coleman was convicted of the same murders and
also sentenced to die. In January 1991 the governor of Ohio commuted
Brown’s death sentence, saying she was retarded and “dominated by”
Coleman. She is now serving two life sentences in Ohio for her
crimes there. However, Indiana is not finished with her.
It took almost seven years, but in August 1991
the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled that the trial court had not
erred by allowing the confession into evidence. The conviction and
death sentence would stand.
The appeals court found that despite her repeated
attempts to speak to an attorney, the confession was separated by
“space, time and subject matter” from her first request for counsel
that it was proper. Brown willfully gave the confession, the court
noted, after being advised of her rights.
Interestingly, it was Brown’s conversations with
authorities while she was being transported to federal custody that
created the loophole which could result in her execution. She asked
questions like “where am I going?” and “what am I charged with?”
Criminal defense attorneys fumed at the court’s
decision, with one saying to the Indianapolis Star that the Fifth
Amendment was being “squeezed to death.” “If you ask anything, you
create an opening the state can drive a truck through,” said Daniel
L. Toomey, who argued Brown’s case before the Court of Appeals.
Today, Debra Brown, the only woman on Indiana’s Death Row, is
serving out her sentences in Ohio. Whether or not she will ever see
the executioner in the Hoosier State remains up in the air.
In August 2000, ruling in a Virginia capital
murder case, the U.S. Supreme Court said a murder defendant is
entitled to constitutionally adequate legal representation.
Coleman's attorneys immediately filed for relief under the high
court's ruling and the Court ordered the Indiana Supreme Court to
reconsider Coleman's death sentence.
Coleman alleged that during the sentencing phase of
his trial his counsel was inadequate and did not bring up mitigating
factors that might have spared Coleman from a trip to the electric
chair. Alton suffered from a troubled childhood, a personality
disorder and brain dysfunction, attorneys said.
The Indiana high court had already upheld his
conviction and sentence on direct appeal.
"Given these aggravating circumstances, even had
his counsel presented the evidence of Coleman's impoverishment and
abuse, we see little likelihood the jury recommendation or the trial
judge's sentence would have been different," wrote the Chief Justice
of the Indiana Supreme Court.
Even if the state of Indiana spares Alton Coleman,
there are any number of prosecutors who are still awaiting a crack at
him. The chances of Coleman, or for that matter, Brown, ever seeing
the outside of a prison cell are slim. If Indiana takes a pass on
Coleman, then Ohio wants its turn, and if the Buckeye State spares his
life, then it's on to Kentucky.
Alton Coleman was executed by lethal injection at
the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville at 10 a.m.
Friday, April 26, 2002. He was 46 years old.
He spent his last days fighting tenaciously for his
life, but appeals that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court were
unsuccessful. Coleman claimed ineffective counsel and that the
prohibition against cruel or unusual punishment would be violated by
having his execution broadcast over closed-circuit television.
The spree killer also charged that his jury was
Relatives of Coleman's victims in Illinois and
Indiana were able to watch the death sentence being carried out via a
secured television link, but no recording was made of the event.
Coleman was executed for the beating death of
Marlene Walters, 44, of Norwood, Ohio on July 13, 1984. Harry Walters,
the victim's husband, and two of the couple's sons-in-law observed the
execution inside the Death House.
His execution, the third since Ohio reinstated the
death penalty, was well-covered by media, with the Department of
Rehabilitation and Corrections reporting that 43 news outlets had
applied for credentials, including TV stations, and newspapers in each
state where Coleman and Debra Brown killed.
He ordered a huge last meal: filet mignon with
sauteed mushrooms, fried chicken breasts, corn bread, biscuits and
brown gravy, french fries, broccoli with cheese, salad with french
dressing, onion rings, collard greens, sweet potato pie with whipped
cream, butter pecan ice cream and a cherry Coke.
Six Thousand Days
Alton Coleman spent more than
6,000 days on death row in
Correctional Institution and used nearly every means available to save
During his more than 16 years as
a condemned prisoner, Coleman was described by prison officials as a
model inmate who enjoyed the media attention his crime spree and
status as one of the first
Ohio inmates in decades
to realistically face the executioner. He particularly enjoyed
speaking to female reporters, and often tried to use his "celebrity"
status to curry favors such as girlie magazines and money for the
commissary from those who sought to interview him.
The appeals process for capital
crimes is lengthy, even when the condemned inmate forgoes his or her
right of appeal. Under
Ohio law, the first
review of a conviction with a death penalty specification is a "direct
appeal" that examines the trial record to ensure there were no errors
leading to an incorrect verdict and sentence. This direct appeal
involves a review by the trial court and the state Supreme Court.
Depending on the date of the conviction, as was the case for Coleman,
an intermediate state appeals court also reviews a case on direct
Coleman's direct appeal began
shortly after his 1985 conviction, but was not concluded until
Alton Coleman's next appeal was
a "post-conviction" review, which looks at the case to determine if
any errors outside the trial record resulted in a violation of his
state or federal Constitutional rights or to an incorrect verdict and
sentence. His post-conviction review motion was filed in September
1990 with the trial court in
Ohio. The Ohio Supreme
Court rejected his post-conviction appeal more than three years later.
defendants are given the opportunity for a third state appeal, a
so-called "Murnahan Appeal," named after the inmate who brought the
first action of this type. In a Murnahan Appeal, the inmate challenges
the effectiveness of the lawyers who handled the previous state
appellate actions. Effectiveness of trial counsel is examined in the
Coleman's Murnahan Appeal was
rejected six months after it was filed, on August 3, 1994 -- some 10
years after he was first indicted for the crimes for which he was
Having run out of state appeals,
Coleman turned to the federal judiciary for relief. He filed a habeas
corpus action -- a claim alleging that his federal Constitutional
rights had been violated -- in December 1994 that the U.S. District
Cincinnati rejected in
The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals
received Coleman's notice of appeal of the lower court ruling in May
1998 and for the next two years, the state and the prisoner filed
briefs with the appellate court. On December 5, 2000, more than 15
years after his conviction, the two sides squared off in oral
arguments before a three-judge panel. Those judges rejected Coleman's
habeas petition in March 2001.
On October 15, 2001 the United
States Supreme Court denied Coleman's request to review the lower
federal court rulings. The way was clear for the Ohio Supreme Court to
set an execution date, which it did, choosing April 26, 2002.
Coleman was not out of
procedural means to escape execution, however. Once the high court
sets an execution date, the state clemency process begins. During his
clemency hearing before the Ohio Parole Board -- which can recommend
clemency to the Governor -- Coleman's attorneys submitted an apology
of sorts from the killer and tried to convince the board that
Alton was mentally
Their pleas were rejected, and
the Parole Board did not recommend that Governor Bob Taft grant
When Taft announced that he
would not spare the killer, Coleman quickly filed suit in federal
court, alleging that the state's clemency process was flawed. That
suit was handily rejected by both the district and appeals courts.
In the days leading up to April
26, Coleman's attorneys repeatedly petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court
with various arguments as to why Coleman should not die. In the last
two weeks of his life, Coleman sent six unsuccessful petitions to the
High Court, all of which were rejected without comment.
That Court, like so many others,
saw no reason why Alton Coleman, who killed so many people without a
second thought, should be allowed to live.
Their thoughts were perhaps best
summed up by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Rich Niehaus, who
sentenced Coleman to death.
"I sentenced him and knowing
this day has come, well, I got a queasy feeling, " Niehaus said on the
day Coleman paid for his crimes. "But if there was anyone who is
Exhibit 1 in an argument for the death penalty, it was Alton Coleman."
Alton Coleman reportedly spent a
fitful night in the death house at the Southern Ohio Correctional
Facility in Lucasville prior to his execution. Although death row is
prisoners are taken to Lucasville for execution of their sentence.
He ate a hearty "special meal" (Ohio
convicts don't have a "last meal" because they are served breakfast
the morning of the execution), but slept poorly, officials who were
present said. The morning of his execution, he had a few bites of
He had been baptized two days
earlier by a Dallas-based televangelist, and had said goodbye to his
family a week prior to his execution. It was their first visit to him
in years and they could not attend the execution because "they could
not get a ride," the spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of
Rehabilitation and Correction told the media.
The observation room overlooking
the execution chamber in Lucasville holds 12 people, and an accordion
door separates the convict's witnesses from those representing the
Alton invited a spiritual
advisor and his legal team. The number of witnesses representing
victims presented a logistical challenge to prison officials who
finally had to obtain special permission from the Ohio Supreme Court
to set up closed-circuit television for the overflow crowd of 18
people (not including media witnesses) who came to watch Coleman die.
In typical fashion,
Alton claimed the
closed-circuit TV violated his civil rights and sought to block the
move. The Ohio Supreme Court rejected that argument.
At shortly before 10 a.m.,
wearing a "non-denominational" prayer shawl with crosses and Stars of
David over his prison blues, Alton Coleman walked into the death
chamber and quietly laid himself on the gurney. He remained still as
the guards fastened restraints on him and attached the lines that
would contain the three chemicals to a shunt already in place in his
He looked over at the witness
room and appeared to say something, but it was impossible to hear him
through the glass.
A prison official asked if he
had any final words, he shook his head and then the executioner pushed
the button that would begin the execution process.
Although just three chemicals
are used to execute a prisoner, one to induce unconsciousness, another
to stop breathing and a third to stop the heart, eight syringes,
operated automatically once the button is pushed are required. It
often takes two or three very long minutes for all the syringes to
As the drugs began flowing,
Alton Coleman began reciting the 23rd Psalm. By the time he reached
"he leadeth me beside the still waters," the sodium pentothal began to
take effect and Coleman lost consciousness.
He was pronounced death at 10:13
Some of the survivors of
Coleman's victims considered their work just half finished.
The grandmother of 7-year-old
murder victim Tamika Turks of Gary, Ind., said survivors won't know
peace until Coleman's accomplice, Debra Brown, is put to death by the
"One chapter has been closed,
but there's another chapter: Debra Brown," she said. "Until that's
done, there can be no peace. (But) we'll never be the same because
what they took from us, they cannot give back to us."
Chicago Tribune, July 22, 1984, “Police Bask In
Glory Of Fugitives' Arrests”
Detroit Free Press:
June 28, 1984, “FBI, Police Search For Slaying Suspect”
July 4, 1984, “Unsuspecting Residents Aid 2 Fugitives, FBI Says”
Friday, July 6, 1984, “Mother Fears 'Some Kind Of Spell'”
July 15, 1984,“Mother Frets For Daughter With Fugitive”
July 15, 1984, “Alton Coleman 'Smooth As Silk': Police Say Fugitive
Has Frustrated Justice”
July 21, 1984, “Alton Coleman Held In Illinois: Bond Set At $25
July 21, 1984, “The Chase For Alton Coleman”
February 13, 1987, “1984 Midwest Crime Spree Continues To Exact
Price In Pain”
August 30, 1991, “Murder Spree Conviction Upheld”
November 17, 1991, “Confession From A Killer: Did Police Cross The
February 3, 1998, “Lone Woman On State's Death Row Is In Ohio”
April 25, 2000, “High Court Edict May Aid State Death Row Inmate:
Justices Tell Court To
Restudy Sentence Of Murderer Who Claims He Received Ineffective
Fantasy Death Row
Next Up: April 26, 2002
Alton Coleman Ohio Conviction: Made Whitey feel
sexually inadequate. Also killed a bunch of women. Handicapping
Factors Pro:Once made the F.B.I.'s most wanted list so he has a
modicum of fame to trade on... Never actually admitted his guilt for
what that's worth...
Ohio was all assholes and elbows the last time
they tried to kill someone, John Byrd Jr, requiring 4 or 5 death
dates before they finally made one stick... It's certainly not a
highly tuned killing machine... Con: After the paucity of background
on folks being executed here lately it's a relief to find someone
whose case is so well documented. That's a great story if you go on
and click his picture there.
Unfortunately, this is the rare case where the
more attention he recieves the worse his chances get... The Supreme
Court has rejected his appeal and refused to stay his date... House
Pick: A detective who was on his trail characterized him as the
Black Ted Bundy, smooth and disarming and all that.
His schoolmates, on the other hand called him "Pissy"
as he was prone to whizzing on himself in class. If you've got your
home psychotherapy kits handy you might have some fun with that
little nugget. But of the many hats he wore and names he answered to,
none is more compelling than this.
He is known as the only man in America with a
death sentence in 3 seperate states. So, if you are going by sheer
quantity, that makes him the consensus choice for "Baddest Man in
America". I guess on the bright side there's 47 other states that
don't have any immediate plans to kill him. The Line is a Wise to
Ohio: 9 - 5 Dead as Hell
The line is unscientific and is based solely on
our research. If you know anything that might affect the odds -for
instance you work in the courts or the penal system or, hell, you
committed the crime- please contact us here.
Alton Coleman on deck? Serial killer may be next
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins -
Thursday, February 21, 2002
COLUMBUS - (AP).- Serial killer Alton Coleman, convicted of slayings in the Midwest in 1984,
could be the next inmate scheduled to die in Ohio.
The state asked the Ohio Supreme Court on Feb. 6
to set an execution date for Mr. Coleman, 45, who also faces death
sentences in Indiana and Illinois. “We believe that his case is the
next one up, but there's no guarantee with the court system and
different issues he can raise,” Bret Crow, a spokesman for Attorney
General Betty Montgomery, said Wednesday.
The state Tuesday executed John W. Byrd, the
third inmate to die since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981
and the first to proclaim his innocence. It was the second execution
in eight months, following Jay D. Scott's execution by injection in
The Ohio Public Defender's Office said that as
many as 10 death row inmates could exhaust their appeals this year.
Most are awaiting a review of their case by the
U.S. Supreme Court. Such reviews are very rare, said David Bodiker,
the Ohio Public Defender. “The chances of getting one of those
things heard is greater than the lottery,” Mr. Bodiker said.
Mr. Coleman's attorney, Dale Baich, would not
discuss the likelihood of an execution date. “I don't think it's
appropriate to make predictions,” he said Wednesday. “Circumstances
in these cases may change, and it doesn't serve the public, the
victims or Mr. Coleman to engage in such speculation.”
Mr. Coleman, of Waukegan, Ill., received two
death sentences in Ohio. One was for the July 11, 1984,
strangulation death of Tonnie Storey, 15, of Over-the-Rhine.
The second was for the July 13, 1984, beating
death of Marlene Walters, 44, of Norwood. An execution date could
depend on the resolution of conflicting rulings by the same federal
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals threw out Mr. Coleman's death sentence in the Storey case
after concluding that his attorneys didn't adequately represent him
in a 1985 trial.
The court, however, upheld the conviction. A
different three-judge panel of the court had already upheld Mr.
Coleman's death sentence for Mrs. Walters' death.
Mr. Coleman's attorneys have asked the U.S.
Supreme Court to review the Walters ruling. They argue that because
the same two attorneys represented Mr. Coleman in both Ohio cases,
it is inconsistent that his sentence be overturned in one case and
upheld in the other. “It would be very unfair to execute someone
when two different panels of the same court reach conflicting
results,” Mr. Baich said.
Oppose the Execution of Alton Coleman!
Ohio is preparing to execute Alton Coleman, a man
whose trial was fundamentally unfair. During the trial, not only did
the prosecution use racially discriminatory tactics to exclude
African-Americans from the jury, but the jury was never told about
Mr. Coleman's mental illness.
Whether you support or oppose capital punishment,
there is mounting evidence that the system is broken. A review of
national death penalty judgments over a 23-year period has found a
national error rate of 68 percent. Executions should not take place
when people are being sentenced unfairly.
Urge Governor Taft to Commute Alton Coleman's
Death Sentence to Life in Prison!
The prosecutors who tried Mr. Coleman adhered to
the racially discriminatory jury selection practices. In Alton
Coleman's trial, prosecutors used 9 of their 12 jury strikes to
eliminate qualified African Americans from the jury.
The prosecution has never been forced to explain
why these otherwise qualified jurors were removed. This pattern of
racial discrimination in jury selection is highly suspect and
completely unacceptable when someone's life is on the line.
People who suffer from serious mental illness
must not be subject to the death penalty. As vulnerable members of
society, the mentally ill are tremendously over-represented in Ohio
Alton Coleman's impending execution is part of
this disturbing trend. During his trial, the jury never heard about
Coleman's mental illness or his childhood abuse. Of the three men
executed in Ohio since 1976, two have had serious mental illness. Mr.
Coleman's execution would make that figure three out of four.
Judge Throws Out Coleman's Lawsuit Over
By Andrew Welsh-Huggins -
April 23, 2002
COLUMBUS, Ohio - (AP) A judge today
threw out a lawsuit that sought to prevent the state from televising
the scheduled execution of Waukegan's Alton Coleman to relatives of
the five victims he was convicted of killing.
Judge Beverly Pfeiffer of Franklin County Common
Pleas Court said Coleman's lawyers presented no evidence to justify
their claim that broadcasting the execution on closed-circuit
television would violate his rights.
Because there are so many witnesses from victims'
families, the state plans to let them watch Coleman's execution from
a closed-circuit television in a room of the prison where he will be
Coleman's lawyers argued that state law prohibits
broadcasting equipment at executions, but Pfeiffer said the law
referred only to recording an execution. "It's a closed-circuit
transmission," she said. "It goes from one room to another. There is
no capability for any recording to be made."
Coleman's lawyers said they were considering
appealing. "The judge has sanctioned Mr. Coleman's execution to
being a spectator sport," said Lori Leon, an attorney representing
Coleman is scheduled to die Friday by injection
for the beating death of a woman in 1984. He also has been convicted
of four murders that occurred during a multistate crime spree in
1984 and has been sentenced to death in Indiana and Illinois.
He is the only current inmate to face death
sentences in three states, according to the Washington, D.C.-based
Death Penalty Information Center.
On Monday, Coleman asked the U.S. Supreme Court
to hear his claim that prosecutors chose a racially biased jury 17
years ago. He also asked Justice John Paul Stevens, who oversees
death penalty appeals in Ohio, to delay the execution while the
court considers the appeal. "This is an important constitutional
question and it should be reviewed in due course, not under the
press of an impending execution," Dale Baich, one of Coleman's
attorneys, said in a statement Monday.
On April 16, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to
hear an appeal on a technical procedure and refused to postpone
Coleman's execution. Coleman, 46, has accused prosecutors of racism
during jury selection in his 1985 trial for the beating death of
Marlene Walters, 44, in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood, on July
Coleman's lawyers claimed that then-Hamilton
County Prosecutor Arthur Ney's team improperly removed nine of 12
black jurors from the trial. Coleman is black.
On Friday, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously
ruled that Coleman's request came too late. It should have been
raised on the direct appeal of his conviction, rather than after his
appeals ran out, the court said.
Joe Case, a spokesman for Attorney General Betty
Montgomery, said Monday that Montgomery agrees with the Ohio Supreme
Court that the racism appeal is too late. Montgomery plans a
response to the latest filing, Case said.
Alton Coleman: His time to die
By Randy Ludlow,
Post Ohio Bureau - Cincinnati Post
April 23, 2002
As Alton Coleman pedaled into blue-collar Norwood,
not even 24 hours had lapsed since he had earned the rare
distinction of becoming an 11th member of the FBI's ''Most Wanted''
With six weeks, 600 miles and six bodies behind
him, the serial killer arrived having perfected his predatory
pattern during his murderous migration across the Midwest.
The horror about to visit 4118 Floral Ave. on the
muggy morning of July 13, 1984, was typical Coleman. He would hide
behind a facade of charm to win over his unsuspecting victims and
Dropped off in Cincinnati five days earlier by a
minister they befriended, Coleman and his companion, Debra Denise
Brown, figured it was time to move on before they were betrayed by
what they had left behind in Walnut Hills.
The near-nude and strangled body of 15-year-old
Tonnie Storey - ''I hate niggers. Death'' scratched into a wall and
outlined in lipstick above her - still lay undiscovered in a
building on May Street.
Coleman needed cash, a change of clothes and a
car to continue life on the run. And he had no qualms about killing
to obtain them. Noticing a camping trailer for sale outside the home
of Harry and Marlene Walters around 11 a.m., Coleman and Ms. Brown
sized up the opportunity and parked their bikes.
Again employing the convincing and friendly
manner of a con man, the 28-year-old Coleman worked to earn the
trust of the middle-age white couple, to disarm them of suspicion,
as they haggled over a price for the camper.
A deal struck with the ''very polite'' man, the
Walterses invited the couple inside their home to sip lemonade. As
Harry Walters sat on a couch talking with his guest about the
trailer title, Coleman picked up a heavy wooden candlestick and
expressed admiration for the piece.
It was the last thing Walters would recall. ''I've
seen brutal homicides, but this is it. These are No. 1. They were
cruel, savage,'' Norwood Detective Capt. Thomas Williams said amid
the manhunt for Coleman and Ms. Brown and the Walters' stolen red
Sherri Walters, 19, found her parents at the
bottom of the blood-spattered basement steps when she arrived home
at 3:45 p.m. Her mother was dead, her father barely alive.
A bloody sheet lay over the head of Mrs. Walters,
44, a mother of three and Sunday school teacher and librarian at
nearby Grace United Methodist Church. Struck 20 to 25 times with a
soft drink bottle, magazine rack and other items, her skull had been
pulverized, her face and scalp raked a dozen times with a pair of
Walters, then 45, lay in a coma. The candlestick
had driven a sliver of skull into his brain. He had been stabbed in
the abdomen and a rope cinched around his neck. Both he and his wife
had their hands and feet bound.
Harry Walters saw neither the death nor the
funeral of his wife of 26 years. But, he will witness the death of
her killer to confirm the receipt of justice and closure he says
should have been his a decade ago. ''On April 5, 1958, Marlene and I
were married, exchanging the vows 'until death do us part.' We were
parted by murder,'' Walters says. ''Execution is the solution. The
Bible tells me so.'' Lucasville will be a busy place Friday as 17
witnesses arrive from three states to watch Coleman die.
Nearly 18 years after terrorizing the Midwest
during a six- state spree of eight murders, seven kidnappings, four
rapes and numerous assaults, home invasions and other crimes,
Coleman's number is up.
Absent an unlikely court stay or grant of
clemency, Coleman, 46, of Waukegan, Ill., will die by lethal
injection at 10 a.m. Friday at the Southern Ohio Correctional
Facility in Ohio's fourth execution since early 1999.
Ohio in effect also will carry out the death
sentences imposed on Coleman in Indiana and Illinois for the murders
of 7- and 9-year-old girls as it executes the only man in the nation
condemned in three states. Walters, his son Daniel and son-in-law
Scott Lillard will see the execution in person from behind a death
In another room, at least 14 more witnesses -
whose daughters, sisters, brothers, mothers and nieces or nephews
were killed by Coleman - will watch the execution live on closed-circuit
Among those present will be Harry Storey, the
father of Tonnie Storey, and her aunt, Paulette Anderson. Coleman
and Mrs. Brown both were sentenced to death for the murder of the
''B'' student at Bloom Junior High School.
However, Ms. Brown's sentence was commuted to
life imprisonment by Gov. Richard Celeste in 1991 and a federal
appeals court last year found errors in the Storey trial and ordered
Coleman resentenced. ''This is someone who deserves to meet his
maker. He is one of the most vicious, cold-blooded serial killers in
the history of the Midwest,'' says Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike
Whether it was helping a woman struggling with a
bas ket of laundry, expressing a seemingly sincere interest in
religion or politely inquiring about a camper for sale, Coleman was
a deadly chameleon. Speaking of the murder of Mrs. Walters, Ohio
Assistant Attorney General Jim Canepa observed: ''He smooth-talked
his way into their house. He's convincing. And, he convinced all of
these people into their graves.''
A rarity as a black serial killer, Coleman
preferred to victimize African Americans - with Marlene Walters his
only white murder victim - and once said he was forced by blacks to
kill other members of his race.
By the time he killed 9-year-old Vernita Wheat in
Waukegan, Ill., on May 29, 1994, Coleman was well known to Chicago-area
police as a sexual predator.
While only once convicted and sent to prison (where
he forced three other inmates to have sex), his rap sheet contained
four arrests for rape. He had even been accused by a half-sister of
sexually molesting his 9-year-old niece.
A prison psychiatric profile found Coleman, a
ninth grade dropout with an IQ on the lower edge of normal, to be
''a pansexual willing to have intercourse with any object, women,
men, children, whatever.''
Coleman reportedly was thrown into a garbage can
by his mentally ill, prostitute mother as an infant. ''Unfortunately,
someone heard my cries and rescued me before death could take me,''
Coleman recently wrote. ''In my life, I had fear, lots of pain and
The boy was raised mostly by his grandmother, who
oper ated a brothel and gambling house. As a child in a whorehouse,
Coleman was physically and sexually abused and exposed to
beastiality, pedophilia and group sex whose participants included
his mother and grandmother. His grandmother also purportedly
practiced voodoo and forced the young boy to kill animals and
harvest their body parts for use in her potions.
Coleman's habit of soiling his clothes earned him
the nickname of ''Pissy'' in the Market Street ghetto in Waukegan.
''Alton walked around all day in his own waste. He had no clean
clothes,'' said the Rev. Robert Evans, a neighbor. ''He had a very
profound, tragic life as a youngster. He has to be responsible for
these crimes, but given the circumstances presented, his life should
be spared,'' Rev. Evans said.
Even as his execution nears, Coleman and Ms.
Brown stick to their story - which prosecutors dismiss as a fable -
that she killed Mrs. Walters. ''I will not deny that I have
destroyed lives, caused pain, grief and suffering beyond
comprehension in 1984, but I did not kill Mrs. Marlene Walters or
even knew she had died,'' Coleman wrote the Ohio Parole Board.
National Coalition to Abolish
the Death Penalty
Ohio Execution Alert: Alton Coleman
Scheduled Execution Date and Time: 4/26/02 10:00
Alton Coleman, a black man on death row in Ohio,
is scheduled to be executed on April 26th for the murder of Marlene
Walters. Coleman has been on death row since 1986, when he was
convicted in two separate death sentences.
Oddly, the same court has upheld Coleman’s other
death sentence, for which he is now set to be executed. In spite of
the overwhelming collection of mitigating circumstances, which the
same court has acknowledged, Coleman has run into a dead-end with
his appeals. Please petition the Governor of Ohio to overturn Alton
Coleman’s second death sentence.
The Scratchin' Post Crime
Alton Coleman & Debra Brown ( Kills: 8)
Alton Coleman, a black man, thought other blacks
were forcing him to kill members of his race. He was diagnosed by a
prison psychiatrist as having pansexual propensities, that is,
willingness "to have intercourse with any object, women, men,
In the summer of 1984, he teamed up with twenty-one
year old Debra Brown for a brutal rampage across the midwest. They
were arrested in Evanston, Illinois after a crime spree in which
they committed a new act of violence each day. Alton was sentenced
Dave's Serial Killer Archives
Alton Coleman was born in November 1955, in a
Waukegan, Illinois ghetto neighborhood, the bastard middle child of
three boy's and two girls. Alton's mother first gave birth at the
young age of fourteen. According to police records, she was a known
Alton's mother also showed no interest in him
when he was born; hence, he was shoved off onto to her mother, Alma
Hosea. "She threw him away, just like you'd throw away garbage,"
Alma later told a Chicago Tribune reporter.
In school, Alton was nicknamed "pissy" by his
classmates because he seemed to have a tendency to wet his pants
quite often. He eventually dropped out of grade school and began
working part time at a kitchen in a local veterans hospital.
As he grew up, he acquired a new nickname on the
street: "Big Al". He was known to carry a knife and a hair-trigger
temper. He often times ran with gangs. This even more so helped to
cultivate his nasty disposition. He quickly had numerous arrests
under his belt. Most dealing with sexual related crimes.
In 1973, Alton was charged with the robbery,
kidnapping and rape of an unidentified elderly Waukegan woman. He
quickly plea-bargained and received a two-to-six year sentence for
robbery. He was then placed in Joliet State Prison.
While serving time in Joliet, Alton was accused
numerous times of molesting other inmates. A psychiatric profile
identified him not as BI-sexual but as, "pansexual, willing to have
intercourse with any object-- man, woman, child.”
Once free on parole, Alton wasted no time getting
arrested again for rape on two separate occasions in the early
1980's. Although both times he was acquitted when the jury believed
his victims had consented to the sex.
Alton soon met a young teenage girl and was
quickly married. However, after only a six-month stint, his new
bride left him and arranged for police protection while she moved
her belongings out. She later stated that she could no longer take
his fascinations with bondage, young girls, and violent sex.
In the summer of 1983, Alton was charged with
taking indecent liberties with a child, his own niece. However, the
charges were quickly dropped when the child's mother changed her
story and claimed that the accusations were false. Apparently
terrified of Coleman, she changed her mind.
Soon after the summer incident, Alton was accused
of raping a fourteen-year-old Waukegan girl at knifepoint. He also
became a suspect in the rape and murder of fifteen-year-old Gina
Reduction of bail in the Waukegan case put him on
the streets to launch a homicidal rampage almost beyond belief, and
earn him a spot on the FBI's 'Most Wanted' list.
Alton quickly jumped bail, and fled with his new
girlfriend, twenty-one-year-old Debra Denise Brown, a high school
drop out and natural follower, he had met in a Waukegan bar. The
pair eventually settled down in Gary, Indiana.
On May 29, 1984, nine-year-old Vernita Wheat,
disappeared after her mother let her accompany one "Robert Knight"
to Waukegan from her Kenosha, WI, home to retrieve a stereo system.
A photo lineup quickly identified Alton Coleman as "Robert Knight".
On June 18, 1984, Alton and Debra abducted seven-year-old
Tamika Turks, and her nine-year-old aunt, while walking near their
home in Gary, IN. Coleman and Brown took the two young children to a
secluded wooded area. Alton placed his hand over Tamika's mouth as
she started to struggle.
Angered, he began to viciously stomp her face and
chest with his feet. When he finally tired of this, he raped and
strangled her. Alton then took Tamika's aunt and brutally beat and
raped her while Brown held her down. Afterwards he strangled her and
left her for dead.
However, unbeknownst to Brown and Coleman the
young girl had only blacked-out, when she awakened she stumbled out
of the woods and was discovered by a local man. She was immediately
taken to a local hospital where she was treated for her injuries.
She was lucky. A search was quickly launched for Tamika.
On June 19, 1984, the body of Tamika Turks was
found in a swampy area of woods. The same day the decomposing
remains of Vernita Wheat were discovered in Waukegan, in an
During this time, the FBI's Behavioral Science
Unit in Quantico Virginia began to prepare a profile on Alton
Coleman, to assist police in their search. The same day the two
children’s bodies were discovered, June 19, twenty-five-year-old
Donna Williams, disappeared after last being seen with "a nice
couple from Boston".
On June 24, 1984, Coleman & Brown accosted a
Detroit woman at knifepoint and demanded that she drive them to
Ohio. She amazingly was able to save herself by intentionally
smashing into a truck, and fleeing on foot. The couple quickly fled
in her damaged vehicle.
On June 27, 1984, the stolen 1976-model car was
found abandoned in a southwest Detroit alley.
On June 28, 1984, Coleman & Brown invaded the
Dearborn Heights suburban home of sixty-two-year-old Palmer Jones,
and his fifty-year-old wife Maggie. They were beaten mercilessly
with a club, robbed of $86.00, and their late model automobile was
On June 30, 1984, Coleman and Brown carjacked two
men at gunpoint, throwing one (an invalid) out of the moving vehicle.
The other man was fortunate enough to be released.
On July 2, 1984, Another Detroit couple was
attacked in their home; this time savagely beaten with a pipe and
subjected to an incoherent harangue by Coleman on how blacks were
forcing him to kill blacks. Coleman then robbed them of $100.00 and
stole their car.
Coleman & Brown then drove to Toledo, where they
handcuffed and assaulted another couple in their home and stole
their car. Shortly thereafter, Coleman and a Toledo bartender
exchanged shots when Coleman tried to abduct one of the bar's
Around this time in Cincinnati the mother of
fifteen-year-old Tonnie Storey, reported her daughter missing. On
July 7, 1984, Coleman & Brown spent the night with thirty-year-old
Virginia Temple, and her ten-year-old daughter, Rochelle.
The mother and daughter were soon to be raped and
murdered. Their bodies later discovered stuffed in a crawlspace.
On July 11, 1984, the decomposing corpse of Donna
Williams was discovered. It was soon apparent that she had been
strangled to death with a pair of panty hose.
Alton Coleman was now added to the FBI's ten most
wanted list. On July 13, 1984, Marlene Walters became the first
white victim; she was bludgeoned to death in her Norwood, OH, home.
Her husband Harry somehow survived the brutal attack and identified
Coleman & Brown as the killers.
On July 16, 1984, forty-five-year-old Oline
Carmichael Jr., a Lexington political-science college professor, was
walking to his vehicle when the killer couple abducted him.
They drove his car to Dayton, Ohio and then
locked him in the trunk. He was found unharmed hours later. Also
later that same day, an elderly minister and his wife were found,
battered in their Dayton home, they were lucky to be alive.
The minister's stolen station wagon was later
recovered at a car wash in Indianapolis, where seventy-seven-year-old
Eugene Scott, and his car were now missing.
Police however, soon found him dead in a ditch
near Zionsville. His hands had been slashed with a knife, and he had
been shot four times in the head with a .38-caliber handgun.
In Waukegan, Coleman's seventy-two-year-old
grandmother issued a tape-recorded appeal, "Alton, please, in Jesus'
name, for God's sake, give yourself up so you can go and get well,"
she pleaded, "Please, your killing me. I'm worried to death."
On July 19, 1984, in Cincinnati, the partly nude
decomposing corpse of fifteen-year-old Tonnie Storey, was found. She
had been raped, brutally stabbed and shot twice in the head.
On July 20, 1984, shortly before noon, the bloody
seven-week reign of terror finally came to an end in Evanston, IL.
An anonymous tip, lead to the couples arrest in a local park where
they were watching a neighborhood basketball game. Police discovered
two blood stained knives and a .38-caliber snub-nosed revolver on
The manhunt was over and authorities in five
states suspected the couple of at least eight murders, numerous
abductions, sexual assaults, beatings, and thefts involving both
local and federal offenses.
It was quickly decided that Ohio authorities
should get the first crack at the couple. "We believe prosecution
(in Ohio) is most likely to result in the swiftest imposition of the
death penalty," U.S. attorney Dan Webb stated. Before the trials
began the couple signed legal documents entering them into a common-law
During separate trials in Cincinnati, both
Coleman and Brown were convicted of first-degree murder in the death
of Mrs. Walters. Coleman was sentenced to die in Ohio's electric
chair, and Debra was sentenced to life in prison.
The jury was shocked during the penalty phase
when Brown took the stand and insisted that she alone had killed Mrs.
Walters. Her own trial had already been concluded. "I killed the
bitch and I don't give a dam. I had fun out of it," Debra boasted,
in what seemed to be a desperate plea to save her lovers life. She
also claimed to have murdered several other people during the
couple's crime spree, and said that she did not "give a dam about
anyone" except Coleman. Regardless, her lover was to her dismay,
sentenced to death.
For the murder of Tonnie Storey, the killer
couple was convicted and sentenced to death. During the trial
Coleman boasted that if he had not been so mentally exhausted when
arrested that he would have easily killed the officers.
The next trial took place in Indiana where the
couple was both sentenced to death for the murder of Tamika Turk.
Back in Waukegan, Coleman was sentenced to death
by lethal injection for the murder of Vernita Wheat. During the
trial Coleman told the jurors that he did not want mercy, "I'm a
dead man. I'm dead already. You are talking to a dead man, not a
Prosecutors believe that Coleman was the only man
in the United States under four separate death sentences at the
time. There are no plans to prosecute Coleman or Brown on the
remaining deaths in the Midwest murder spree.
In June of 1997, Debra Brown, residing at the
Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville, Ohio, launched a self
serving campaign to try and overturn her death sentence in Indiana
where she is the only female among 51 people under active death
sentences. Alton Coleman remains on death row in Ohio at the
Mansfield Correctional Institution.
18 years later,
circle of death will close with killer's execution
April 17, 2002
Three months after her 9-year-old daughter's body
was found strangled in an abandoned house, Juanita Wheat packaged up
her baby's clothes, her toys, stuffed animals and her books and
donated them to charity. "I just couldn't look at them anymore,"
Wheat said. "There were too many memories."
Each time she looked at Vernita's possessions,
she would think about the happy girl who loved to hold a pencil like
a microphone and sing "Let's Hear it for the Boy." She would think
about the straight-A student who loved to read comic books and fuss
over her little brother. Juanita Wheat would think about the last
time she saw her only daughter, and she would think about the nice
man who took the girl to his Kenosha apartment to pick up stereo
speakers he planned to give Juanita Wheat as a belated Mother's Day
present. It's been almost 18 years since
Coleman and his girlfriend, Debra Brown, left a trail of carnage in
In the summer of 1984, the couple were linked to
8 murders and more than a dozen robberies, rapes, abductions and
beatings in 6 states - ranging from a college professor who was
abducted in Kentucky and left unharmed in his car trunk to an Ohio
woman who was beaten to death in her home.
The multistate crime spree landed Coleman on the
FBI's Ten Most Wanted list as frantic police found more bodies and
checked out hundreds of sightings as the couple moved around the
Coleman, now 46, was sentenced to death in
Illinois for Vernita Wheat's homicide; in Ohio for the murders of
Tonnie Storey, 15, of Cincinnati and Marlene Walters, 44, of Norwood,
Ohio; and in Indiana for the slaying of Tamika Turks, 7, of Gary,
One of about 3,700 people on death row in the
United States, Coleman is the only person facing death sentences in
three states, said Brenda Bowser, communications director for the
Death Penalty Information Center.
Brown was not a suspect in Vernita Wheat's death.
But she was convicted in Ohio of Storey's murder and sentenced to
death. Her death sentence was later commuted to life in prison.
On the day Vernita Wheat's body was found, the
body of Tamika Turks turned up. A 9-year-old girl abducted with
Tamika testified that Coleman sexually assaulted them and then
stomped on Tamika's head and chest, killing her. Soon, other bodies
Coleman's rampage started in this community of
88,000, only a few miles from the Illinois border. Barring a last-minute
reprieve, Coleman's life will end at 10 a.m. April 26 in a death row
chamber in Ohio. By the time Coleman and Brown were arrested while
sitting on an Evanston, Ill., park bench, 8 people were dead,
including Vernita Wheat, who disappeared on May 29, 1984.
Her decomposed body was found in the bathroom of
an abandoned house in Waukegan on June 19,trussed with nine-feet of
television cable and her hands bound. Coleman's fingerprint was
found on a door leading into the bathroom, and he was seen with
Vernita in Waukegan, according to testimony at his trial in 1987
where a jury deliberated for 3 hours before convicting him of
killing the Kenosha girl.
Although the clothing matched the shirt and pants
Vernita was wearing when she left with Coleman, authorities wanted
to use dental records to determine her identity. But Vernita had
perfect teeth and had never visited a dentist.
So police ended up matching fingerprints from the
3rd-grader's schoolbooks to the body.
'Oh no, oh no' Willie Mae Peebles remembers going
to the Waukegan police station with Juanita Wheat, her neighbor. She
recalled getting the awful news about the little girl she called by
her nickname, Tracy, who often came to her house to snack on
sandwiches and watermelon. "The police said it didn't look good. We
sat in a room and they got Juanita and took her somewhere to tell
her Tracy was dead," Peebles said. "She came back and said, 'Oh no,
oh no.'" Juanita Wheat figured the police would tell her "they had
found her and she was OK." "I couldn't believe he'd kill her. I
still can't believe he'd do that," Juanita Wheat said in an
interview last week in her Kenosha apartment.
Coleman met Wheat as she stood outside her
apartment hanging her laundry to dry. He said his name was Michael
Knight and that he lived nearby. He helped her with her laundry and
a few days later offered to take Vernita and her 5-year-old brother
Brandon to a carnival.
Shortly after returning from the carnival, he
asked Juanita Wheat if he could take the kids to his apartment to
pick up stereo speakers. She said Brandon was too little to go since
it was getting late but that Vernita could help as long as she
returned soon because it was a school night.
Brandon Wheat said there's no doubt in his mind
that he would have been killed had he gone with Coleman. "I really
think he did want to do something bad with her," he said.
Out of sight - Aside from the victims who
survived the attacks and the families of the victims who didn't, the
memory of Coleman and Brown has dimmed. "He's been gone for so long,
he's kind of been out of sight, out of mind," Waukegan Deputy Police
Chief Bill Biang said.
But during the summer of 1984, Coleman and Brown
were big news as authorities in several states published their
pictures and warned residents to lock their doors. Coleman was
smooth and likable, said Kenosha police Lt. Doug Stein, who was a
detective when Juanita Wheat reported her daughter missing. "He was
a serial killer, obviously. He was a personable person. If I had to
pair him up with somebody, who was that guy who killed all those
girls in Florida? Ted Bundy? He reminds me of Ted Bundy," Stein said.
Once Kenosha police realized Vernita Wheat wasn't
a runaway but likely a kidnap victim, the investigation quickly
focused on Coleman.
Authorities learned Coleman didn't fit the
profile of an outwardly scary man, Stein said. "He was the kind of
guy who could talk his way in and the type where people would feel
comfortable leaving their daughter with him," Stein said. "He was
looking for people who were vulnerable who would listen to his spiel."
Coleman never admitted to any of the crimes he
was convicted of, though there were plenty of witnesses and physical
evidence, said Marc Hansen, a Waukegan police lieutenant at the time
of Vernita's homicide. "All he would say is he knew the girl's
family in Kenosha," said Hansen, now an investigator in the Lake
County state's attorney's office.
Detectives talked to people who saw Vernita in
Waukegan with Coleman. The time of her death was pinpointed through
insect larvae, and his fingerprint was found on the door leading to
the room where her body was found. "This guy is the scum of the
earth," Hansen said. "I don't think any of this would have happened
in today's world because he was able to, in his previous arrests for
rape... intimidate the victims."
Coleman refused a written request for an
interview. His public defender, Dale Baich, did not return a phone
call seeking comment.
However, Baich faxed a statement from Coleman's
brother and 2 sisters, who live in Illinois. "We love our brother.
We offer sympathy and prayers to the victims and their families,"
the family said in the statement. They said that while there's no
excuse for Coleman's actions, there's an explanation. "We ask that
people understand that our brother is sick. He never received the
help or treatment that he needed when he was a baby, a child and a
young adult. Instead, he was forgotten and ignored by society,"
hisfamily said. "Now, because of his actions, society wants to
'Justice will be served' - Juanita Wheat plans to
attend the execution. "All I can say is he has to pay for his
wrongdoing. Justice will be served," she said. "I'm quite sure he
has suffered for this in (prison). But he hasn't suffered enough yet."
For Brandon Wheat, much of his life has been
haunted with memories of his beloved sister, who fixed him breakfast,
combed his hair, tied his shoes and played with him every day. He,
like his mother, wants Coleman to die. "I'm actually looking forward
to it happening for the simple fact that he basically took the
oxygen that my sister could have had," he said.
Now serving a 10-year prison sentence for robbery
and delivery of a controlled substance, Brandon Wheat said his life
would have turned out differently if his sister were alive. "If she
was around, I know I wouldn't be in this situation I am in right now
because we were very close," he said in a phone interview from
Kettle Moraine Correctional Institution near Plymouth.
Though he was only 5 when he saw his sister leave
with Coleman, the memory is still fresh. "My sister turned around at
the door and looked at me and my mom and said 'I love you.' That's
the last time I saw her."
(source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
arguments about killer's fate
April 17, 2002
Alton Coleman: born damaged or pure evil? Those
were the positions staked out yesterday at a clemency hearing to
determine whether Coleman -- the only person under death sentences
in three states -- should be spared from execution April 26 in the
Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville. A decision by
the Ohio Parole Board is expected Friday.
Harry Walters of Norwood -- whose wife, Marlene,
44, was killed by Coleman -- made a simple plea. "Execution is the
solution,'' Walters said. "When will the system finally have mercy
on the victims, families and give them closure?'' "The family asks
not for your sympathy or even your compassion,'' said Scott Lillard,
Mr. Walters' son-in-law. "We ask for justice.''
Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael K. Allen
called Coleman "pure evil,'' a smooth talker who "convinced all
those people into their grave. . . . He's a con man. He's trying to
In support of mercy, Dale Baich, Coleman's
federal public defender, argued that he was born with a damaged
brain and suffered a brutally abusive childhood, rendering him
unable to control his violent actions. "I believe that society has
neglected the crimes against Alton, and now they want to exterminate
him,'' said the Rev. Robert Evans, a north Chicago Baptist minister
who has known Coleman since childhood.
The board will consider the arguments presented
during the three-hour hearing in making a clemency recommendation to
Gov. Bob Taft.
Under state law, the governor has final life-and-death
authority in capital cases. Taft, a death-penalty supporter, has
rejected three previous clemency requests; all three men were
Coleman, 46, of Waukegan, Ill., is to be executed
for the July 13, 1984, beating death of Mrs. Walters. Mr. Walters
also was beaten. He suffered permanent brain damage and required
repeated surgery over a period of more than two years.
Coleman's death sentence for the murder of Tonnie
Storey, 15, of Cincinnati, was overturned on appeal. He also has
been sentenced to die in Illinois and Indiana.
Coleman's execution would be Ohio's second in
2002, making it the first year since 1963 that the state has had
more than one. The peak was 15 in 1949.
Coleman and girlfriend Debra Denise Brown went on
a six-state rampage for seven weeks in the summer of 1984, leaving
at least eight people dead and 15 others beaten, robbed and scarred
Four of the dead were Ohioans, including Virginia
and Rachelle Temple, a mother and daughter who were raped and killed
in their Toledo home.
Members of the Temple family attended the
clemency hearing yesterday but were not allowed to speak because the
charges in the case were dropped in 1987 by Lucas County. However,
the family delivered a powerful, silent message, wearing T-shirts
with the victims' pictures on them.
Coleman's attorneys said he is "truly sorry'' for
Mrs. Walters' death but continued to claim that Brown was the real
murderer. "I will not deny that I have destroyed lives, caused pain,
grief and suffering beyond comprehension in 1984, but I did not kill
Mrs. Marlene Walters or even know she had died,'' Coleman said in a
letter delivered to the parole board.
Dr. Thomas Thompson, a neuropsychologist from Las
Cruces, N.M., testified that Coleman probably was brain-damaged at
birth because his mother, a prostitute, was a drug- user and an
alcoholic. He was a "damaged container filled with damaged contents''
because of a childhood in which he was beaten and exposed to
bestiality, violence and sexual abuse. "He's never been able to
fully participate in anything he's ever done,'' Thompson said. "Except
killing,'' interjected Peter Davis, a parole-board member and former
state prisoner advocate.
Meanwhile, Coleman's attorneys yesterday filed an
appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court claiming that his constitutional
rights were violated during his trial when potential minority jurors
were unfairly dismissed. Coleman is black. "Nothing but a delay
tactic,'' responded Joe Case, spokesman for Attorney General Betty
D. Montgomery. "This issue has been reviewed and rejected in federal
courts in the past.''
(Source: Columbus Dispatch)
to argue for sparing killer
April 16, 2002
Alton Coleman, accused of at least seven murders
during a 1984 crime spree, was born with a dysfunctional brain and
could not develop into a normal adult because of a childhood filled
with abuse, a psychologist said yesterday.
Attorneys for Coleman, 46, were to plead with Gov.
Bob Taft to spare his life during a hearing today before the Ohio
Parole Board. Coleman, 46, is not allowed to testify at his hearing
under board policy.
His attorneys want Taft to reduce Coleman's death
sentence to life without parole. Also yesterday, the U.S. Supreme
Court declined to hear an appeal on a technical procedure and
refused to postpone the April 26 execution.
Coleman of Waukegan, Ill., faces a death sentence
for the murder of Marlene Walters, 44, who was strangled July 13,
1984, after being attacked in suburban Cincinnati.
Last year, Coleman was evaluated by Thomas C.
Thompson, a neuropsychologist from Las Cruces, N.M., who is to
testify at today's hearing. Coleman's brain never fully developed,
in part because his mother abused alcohol and other drugs during her
pregnancy, Thompson said yesterday.
Courts in the Walters case consistently have
ruled that the death sentence for Coleman is appropriate, said Joe
Case, spokesman for Attorney General Betty D. Montgomery. The U.S.
Supreme Court yesterday refused to block Coleman's execution.
Coleman's attorneys appealed on the grounds that
only one judge of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals had remanded
the case to state custody, allowing the execution date to be set.
The attorneys said at least a three-judge panel was needed to return
the case to the state. The U.S. Supreme Court disagreed.
(Source: Columbus Dispatch)
Court denies Coleman appeal
April 16, 2002
- Associated Press
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an
appeal by convicted killer Alton Coleman, scheduled to die by
injection on April 26 for the murder of a Cincinnati woman. The
court, without comment, also refused to block Coleman's execution.
Mr. Coleman, 46, was accused of at least 7 slayings during a
multistate crime spree in 1984. He also faces death sentences in
Indiana and Illinois for crimes committed there during the spree.
convicted in 2 states remains behind bars in Ohio
April 9, 2002
For the past 11 years, Ohio has kept convicted
killer Debra Denise Brown behind bars -- at a total cost to
taxpayers of $200,000. Brown faces a death sentence in Indiana,
while Ohio's case against Brown is dormant, thanks to a commutation
by former Gov. Richard F. Celeste. So why is she imprisoned here?
The answer is simple: Indiana hasn't asked for
her. "We can't just send her over there,'' said Andrea Dean,
spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.
"A request has to be made by Indiana authorities.''
Brown, 39, the girlfriend and killing mate of
Alton Coleman during a summer murder rampage across four states in
1984, was convicted and sentenced to death in both Ohio and Indiana.
However, Celeste -- a death-penalty opponent --
commuted Brown's death sentence to life in prison on Jan. 10, 1991,
days before he left office. Celeste said he spared Brown's life
because she was retarded, had childlike emotional development and
had a "master-slave'' relationship with Coleman.
Brown's death sentence for the murder of 7-year-old
Tamika Turks of Gary, Ind., remains in force. She is appealing the
Indiana conviction in U.S. District Court in Columbus. Indiana
officials are prosecuting the case; Brown's attorneys are court-appointed
public defenders from out of state. Indiana officials, including
former Gov. Evan Bayh, said immediately after Celeste's commutation
that they planned to file a request to extradite Brown.
However, that never happened, perhaps in part
because of criticism about the cost of bringing Coleman and Brown to
Indiana for trial in 1986 after Ohio already had convicted them of
"Ohio has a lawful right to hold her as well as
Indiana,'' said Pam Pattison, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department
of Correction. "There has been discussion about bringing her back to
Indiana. Ohio kept her,'' Pattison said.
She offered no reason why Indiana has not
extradited Brown. Brown is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for
Women in Marysville at an annual cost now figured at $22,014.
If Brown were shipped to Indiana, she would be
housed at the Indiana Women's Prison in Indianapolis where Indiana
taxpayers would pick up the annual cost of $19,374. Coleman's
execution has been set for April 26 at the Southern Ohio
Correctional Facility near Lucasville.
He was sentenced to die for the murder of Marlene
Walters of Cincinnati. The case is being appealed. Although Coleman
and Brown were close at the time of the murders in 1984, they no
longer communicate or have any kind of relationship, one of
Coleman's attorneys said.
(Source: Columbus Dispatch)
killer to testify in clemency hearing on April 16
April 2, 2002
Convicted killer Alton Coleman will get a chance
for clemency at an Ohio Parole Board hearing April 16. The 12-member
board will review Coleman's request to be spared from execution
April 26 at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility near Lucasville.
The 2 p.m. meeting will be held at board offices, 1030 Alum Creek
Dr. The hearing originally was scheduled for April 9, but was moved
to April 16 after Dale Baich, one of Coleman's attorneys, complained
to Raymond E. Capots, chairman of the board. Baich argued that
Coleman wants to testify at his clemency hearing, but would not have
time to prepare by April 9. Capots then moved the date back a week.
Gov. Bob Taft will make the final decision once
he receives a recommendation from the board. Taft's unlimited
clemency power allows him to suspend death sentences, delay an
execution, or do nothing and allow it to proceed.
In three previous cases -- Wilford Berry in 1999,
Jay D. Scott last year, and John W. Byrd Jr. earlier this year --
Taft refused to stop the executions.
Coleman, now 46, was sentenced to death for
murdering Marlene Walters, 44, on July 13, 1984. The Norwood woman
was bludgeoned with a wooden candleholder; her husband, Harry, was
also badly beaten, but survived.
Coleman also was convicted for killing Tonnie
Storey, 15, of Cincinnati, but the death sentence in that case was
overturned. Coleman and his former girlfriend, Debra Denise Brown,
made the FBI "Most Wanted'' list after going on a killing rampage in
five states from May 29 to July 20, 1984.
When Coleman and Brown were arrested in Evanston,
Ill., seven people were dead, including four in Ohio, and numerous
other people were beaten and robbed.
Brown, incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for
Women in Marysville, is sentenced to death in Indiana. Her Ohio
death sentence was commuted by former Gov. Richard F. Celeste.
Coleman is the only person in the country under death sentences in
three states -- Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.
Alton Coleman have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to halt his
March 9, 2002
Coleman, 46, of Waukegan, Ill., was sentenced to
death in two separate Ohio slayings. His execution is scheduled for
April 26. Coleman also faces death sentences in Indiana and
He was sentenced to die in Ohio for the
strangulation death of Tonnie Storey, 15, of Cincinnati, and for the
beating death of Marlene Walters, 44, of suburban Cincinnati.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court
of Appeals threw out the sentence in the Storey case after
concluding that Coleman's attorneys didn't adequately represent him
in a 1985 trial. But the court upheld Coleman's conviction in the
Storey case and his death sentence in the Walters case.
Coleman's attorney, Dale Baich, on Feb. 25 asked
the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn an appellate judge's denial of
Coleman's request so the high court could resolve conflicting issues
on attorney representation in the two cases. But Ohio Attorney
General Betty D. Montgomery said she believes the execution should
The two different cases had separate defense
teams, and one of the attorneys in the Walters case said Coleman had
ordered him to not introduce certain evidence in the sentencing
phase, Montgomery spokesman Joe Case said. "The bottom line is the
judge had every right to deny that motion,'' Case said
yesterday.March 7, 2002
serial killer could be executed in Ohio
February 20, 2002
Serial killer Alton Coleman of Waukegan,
convicted of slayings in the Midwest in 1984, could be the next
inmate scheduled to die in Ohio. The state asked the Ohio Supreme
Court on Feb. 6 to set an execution date for Coleman, who also faces
death sentences in Indiana and Illinois. "We believe that his case
is the next one up, but there's no guarantee with the court system
and different issues he can raise," Bret Crow, a spokesman for
Attorney General Betty Montgomery, said Wednesday.
The state on Tuesday executed John W. Byrd, the
3rd inmate to die since Ohio reinstated the death penalty in 1981
and the 1st to proclaim his innocence. It was the 2nd execution in 8
months, following Jay D. Scott's execution by injection in June. The
Ohio Public Defender's Office said that as many as 10 death row
inmates could exhaust their appeals this year.
Most are awaiting a review of their case by the
U.S. Supreme Court. Such reviews are very rare, said David Bodiker,
the Ohio Public Defender. "The chances of getting one of those
things heard is greater than the lottery," Bodiker said.
Coleman's attorney Dale Baich would not discuss
the likelihood of an execution date for his client this year. "I
don't think it's appropriate to make predictions," he said Wednesday.
"Circumstances in these cases may change, and it doesn't serve the
public, the victims or Mr. Coleman to engage in such speculation."
Coleman received 2 death sentences in Ohio. One
was for the July 11, 1984, strangulation death of Tonnie Storey, 15,
of Cincinnati. The 2nd was for the July 13, 1984, beating death of
Marlene Walters, 44, of suburban Cincinnati. An execution date for
Coleman could depend on the resolution of conflicting rulings by the
same federal court.
A 3-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of
Appeals threw out Coleman's death sentence in the Storey case after
concluding that Coleman's attorneys didn't adequately represent him
in a 1985 trial. The court, however, upheld Coleman's conviction. A
different 3-judge panel of the court had already upheld Coleman's
death sentence for Walters' death.
Coleman's attorneys have asked the U.S. Supreme
Court to review the Walters' ruling. They argue that since the same
2 attorneys represented Coleman in both Ohio cases, it is
inconsistent that his sentence be overturned in the Storey case and
upheld in the Walters' case. "It would be very unfair to execute
someone when 2 different panels of the same court reach conflicting
results," Baich said. "We hope the U.S. Supreme Court will resolve
Senate President Richard Finan, who helped write
the law reinstating Ohio's death penalty, on Wednesday criticized
the long appeals process for death row inmates. "Deterrence is a
problem when the person sits there for 19 years, and they write 2
books, they find God and they join the junior chamber of commerce
and then all of a sudden they're a good person," Finan said.
(source: Associated Press)
State v. Coleman,
1987 WL 18124 (Ohio App. 1987). (Direct Appeal)
On the morning of July 11, 1984, Tonnie Storey, a
fifteen-year-old black female, left her home in Cincinnati to attend
a computer class at a junior high school.
Eight days later, Storey's partially decomposed
body was discovered in an abandoned building; it was determined that
she had been the victim of a homicide.
The defendant-appellant, Alton Coleman, and a
female companion, Deborah Denise Brown, were subsequently indicted
for the homicide in a true bill containing two counts of aggravated
murder and one count of aggravated robbery. The two counts of
aggravated murder contained death-penalty specifications under R.C.
Appellant Coleman was tried separately before a
jury and found guilty of purposely, and with prior calculation and
design, causing the death of Tonnie Storey as part of a course of
conduct involving the purposeful killing of or attempt to kill two
or more persons (first count with first specification).
The jury also returned a verdict finding him
guilty under R.C. 2903.02 of purposely causing Storey's death, a
lesser included offense of the aggravated murder charged in the
indictment's second count. Coleman was acquitted on the remaining
charge of aggravated robbery.
In the sentencing phase of the trial, the jurors
determined that the aggravating circumstance found to exist in the
case outweighed the mitigating factors, and they accordingly
recommended that Coleman receive the death penalty.
The trial judge, after independently weighing the
evidence, accepted the jury's recommendation and sentenced Coleman
to death for the aggravated murder of Storey.
No further sentence was imposed in connection
with the guilty verdict separately returned for the lesser included
offense of murder. The record reveals the following pertinent
chronology of events:
1. January 7, 1985: Coleman was returned to
Hamilton County to stand trial on two separate capital indictments (the
one here at issue and another involving the murder of one Marlene
Walters, see State v. Coleman [Dec. 10, 1986], Hamilton App. No.
C-850340, (unreported). At that time, he was serving a term of
imprisonment on federal kidnapping charges.
2. February 13, 1985: Trial in the present case
was set for April 29, 1985.
3. March 28, 1985: Coleman was held in contempt
for refusing to provide handwriting samples.
4. April 15, 1985: Coleman's trial for the
Walters murder began.
5. April 23, 1985: The present case was continued
until June 17, 1985, because the other trial for the Walters murder
was in progress and Coleman would not be available on the scheduled
trial date of April 29, 1985.
6. May 6, 1985: Coleman was sentenced to death at
the conclusion of the trial for the Walters murder.
7. May 20, 1985: Trial began in the present case.
State v. Coleman,
1986 WL 14070 (Ohio App. 1986). (Direct Appeal-Walters)
The defendant-appellant, Alton Coleman, was found
guilty, after a jury trial, of the July 13, 1984 aggravated murder
of Marlene Walters. The trial court imposed a sentence of capital
punishment and this appeal as of right ensued.
The appellant and his companion, Debra Brown,
arrived at the home of Harry Walters and Marlene Walters on July 13,
1984, ostensibly to discuss the purchase of a camper that Mr. and
Mrs. Walters had for sale. The result of this encounter was
discovered by the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walters when she returned
from work about 4:00 p.m. on the same day.
She found the body of her mother, Marlene Walters,
in the basement. Her mother was dead and her body displayed multiple
severe head injuries. Harry Walters was also found, alive, in the
basement with less severe head injuries.
An automobile belonging to Mr. Walters had been
stolen and was recovered in Lexington, Kentucky on July 15, 1984.
The record contains further evidence of the movements of the
appellant and Brown until they were apprehended in Evanston,
Illinois. They were returned, subsequently, to Hamilton County, Ohio
Each of the two counts of aggravated murder was
accompanied by three specifications of aggravating circumstances.
The first specification to the first count charged that the
aggravated murder was committed while the appellant was committing
or attempting to commit aggravated burglary and that appellant was
the principal offender in the commission of the aggravated murder or
committed the aggravated murder with prior calculation and design as
specified in R.C. 2929.04(A)(7)
The first specification to the second count
charged the appellant in similar fashion, substituting aggravated
robbery for aggravated burglary. The jury returned verdicts finding
the appellant guilty of the first specification to each count. The
jury returned not guilty verdicts on the second specification to
each count of aggravated murder.
The second specification charged the aggravating
circumstance of committing the aggravated murder for the purpose of
escaping detection, apprehension and punishment for another offense
(aggravated burglary and aggravated robbery, respectively) as
specified in R.C. 2929.04(A)(3)
The third specification to each count of
aggravated murder charged the appellant with committing aggravated
murder as a part of a course of conduct involving the purposeful
attempt by the appellant to kill two or more persons as specified in
R.C. 2929.04(A)(5) The jury found the appellant guilty of the third
specification to each count of aggravated murder.
On direct examination, the co-defendant, Debra
Brown, recanted her testimony given during the first phase of the
trial. In the second phase of the trial, she testified that she
committed the murder of Marlene Walters.
The record discloses that for approximately two
weeks prior to the homicide on review, appellant and his co-defendant
traveled in Michigan and Ohio without visible means of support other
than robberies perpetrated against older couples in their respective
Their journey led them to Norwood, Ohio on July
13, 1984, where they approached Harry and Marlene Walters ostensibly
to discuss the purchase of a camper.
By this ruse, appellant and his co-defendant were
admitted to the Walters residence where Harry Walters was severely
beaten about his head and left to die beside the body of his wife
who had been beaten to death.
The appellant and his co-defendant removed some
personal property from the residence, stole the automobile of Harry
Walters and left Hamilton County. Thereafter they committed
additional crimes in Kentucky and Dayton, Ohio. They were finally
arrested in Illinois on July 20, 1984.
The appellant used a variety of instruments in
murdering Marlene Walters and attempting to murder Harry Walters
including glass bowls, candlesticks, soft drink bottles, vise-grips,
crowbar, electric cord, and handcuffs. The violence of the attacks
fractured the skulls of both victims, driving portions of bone into
the brain of each victim.
The disarray of the furnishings in the home, the
blood at various places and the physical injuries inflicted upon Mr.
and Mrs. Walters all constitute irrefutable evidence of the ferocity
of the assaults motivated by a purpose to kill the victims.
We find that the evidence in the record before us
proves, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the appellant is guilty of
the counts and specification three to counts one and two contained
in the indictment and of which he was convicted by the trial jury.
Further, considering the aggravating
circumstances of the specifications and weighing them against the
nature and circumstances of the offense, the history, character and
background of the appellant and all the mitigating factors listed in
R.C. 2929.04(B) we conclude that the aggravating circumstances do
outweigh the mitigating factors present in this case.
State v. Coleman,
544 N.E.2d 622 (Ohio 1989) (Direct Appeal-Storey).
On July 7, 1984, Alton Coleman (appellant), and
Debra D. Brown approached the home of the Reverend and Mrs. Millard
Gay of Dayton, Ohio. After conversing with Mr. Gay, they stayed at
the Gays' home from July 7 through July 9, 1984.
Appellant and Brown accompanied the Gays to
religious services in Lockwood, Ohio, on July 9, 1984. The next day,
the Gays drove appellant and Brown to downtown Cincinnati and
dropped them off.
On July 11, 1984 at approximately 10:00 a.m.,
Tonnie Storey, age fifteen, left her home in Cincinnati wearing
rusty brown cutoff shorts, a beige sleeveless blouse with yellow
rings, blue tassel shoes and a Michael Jackson button. She was next
seen at Bloom Junior High School at approximately 11:45 a.m. by a
Later that same day, between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.,
a classmate saw Tonnie on the corner of May and Morgan Streets in
Cincinnati in the company of a man and a woman. The classmate
identified the man as Coleman. When Tonnie had not returned home by
4:30 p.m. that day, her mother called the police and reported her
On July 19, 1984, a body was discovered in an
abandoned building on May Street by a real estate agent. A Michael
Jackson button and a pair of brown shorts with keys in the pocket
were discovered in the area where the body was found.
The keys identified by decedent's father belonged
to the Storey residence. The body was badly decomposed and
identification was made through fingerprints. The body was
identified as that of Tonnie Storey. The cause of death of Tonnie
was homicidal asphyxia.
Appellant and Brown were jointly indicted for the
murder of Tonnie on October 10, 1984, in a three-count indictment
containing specifications. The first specification charged pursuant
to R.C. 2929.04(A)(5) was that the aggravated murder was part of a
course of conduct involving the purposeful killing of or attempt to
kill two or more persons.
The death-penalty specification was dismissed
prior to trial. The third specification charged pursuant to R.C.
2929.04(A)(3) was that the offense was committed for the purpose of
escaping detection, apprehension, trial, or punishment for another
Appellant was tried separately from co-indictee
Brown. The jury found appellant guilty of aggravated murder and
guilty of specification No. 1. The mitigation hearing was held one
day after the guilt phase was completed, and the jury recommended
the penalty of death.
On June 24, 1985, the trial court accepted the
jury's recommendation and sentenced appellant to death. Appellant
appealed to the court of appeals which affirmed the judgment of the
trial court. This cause is now before this court upon an appeal as
During the summer of 1984 Alton Coleman and Debra
Brown embarked upon a course of criminal conduct through several
Midwestern states. In May 1984 appellant befriended Juanita Wheat, a
black female, who lived in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and was the mother of
On May 29, 1984, appellant abducted Vernita to
Waukegan, Illinois. Her body was discovered on June 19, 1984 in an
abandoned building, four blocks from appellant's grandmother's
apartment. The body was badly decomposed and the cause of death was
On May 31, 1984, appellant befriended Robert
Carpenter in Waukegan, Illinois, and spent the night at his home.
The next day he borrowed Carpenter's car to go to the store and
In June 1984, appellant and Brown appeared in
Gary, Indiana, where they encountered two young black girls, Annie
Hillard, age nine or ten, and Tamika Turks, age seven. Tamika's
partially decomposed body was discovered on June 19, 1984. The cause
of death was ligature strangulation. Annie survived.
On June 19, 1984, appellant befriended Donna
Williams, a twenty-five-year- old black female, of Gary, Indiana. On
July 11, 1984, Williams' badly decomposed body was discovered in
Detroit, Michigan, one-quarter to one- half mile from where her car
was found. The cause of death was ligature strangulation.
On June 28, 1984, appellant and Brown entered the
home of Mr. and Mrs. Palmer Jones of Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
Palmer was handcuffed by Coleman and then badly beaten. Mrs. Jones
was also attacked. Coleman ripped the Joneses' phone from the wall
and stole their money and car.
On July 5, 1984, appellant and Brown came to
Toledo, Ohio, where appellant befriended Virginia Temple, an adult
black female and the mother of several children. Her eldest child
was Rachelle, age nine. Relatives became concerned about the
children and upon entering the home found the young children alone
Virginia's and Rachelle's bodies were discovered
in a crawl space. A bracelet was missing from the home and later was
found in Cincinnati under the body of Tonnie Storey. The cause of
death of both Virginia and Rachelle was strangulation.
On July 7, 1984, appellant and Brown entered the
home of Mr. and Mrs. Frank Duvendack of Toledo. Coleman handcuffed
Frank. The Duvendacks were then bound with their own appliance cords
and phone cords which had been cut, and money and the Duvendacks'
car were stolen.
On July 7, 1984, appellant and Brown appeared at
the home of Reverend and Mrs. Millard Gay of Dayton, Ohio. They
stayed with them in Dayton and then accompanied them to Lockwood,
Ohio, on July 9, to a religious service. On July 10, the Gays
dropped off appellant and Brown in downtown Cincinnati.
On July 17, 1984, appellant and Brown reappeared
at the Gay home. The Reverend Mr. Gay recognized appellant and he
and his wife were accosted with guns. Mr. Gay asked appellant, " * *
* why you want to do us like that, like this," and according to Gay,
Coleman responded: "I'm not going to kill you. * * * But we
generally kills them where we go." Appellant took Mr. Gay's car.
On July 13, 1984, appellant and Brown entered the
home of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walters of Norwood, Ohio. Mrs. Walters
was killed and Harry was attacked. Money and the Walterses' car were
State v. Coleman,
525 N.E.2d 792 (Ohio 1988) (Direct Appeal-Walters).
Alton Coleman and Debra D. Brown bicycled into
Norwood, Ohio, on July 13, 1984, at about 9:30 a.m. About three
hours later, they drove away in Harry Walters' car, leaving Harry
Walters unconscious and Marlene Walters dead. Harry Walters survived.
He testified that Coleman and Brown inquired about a camping trailer
he had been offering for sale. Upon agreement to sell the trailer,
Harry Walters invited Coleman and Brown into his home. He sat on the
couch as he and Coleman discussed the trailer title.
Coleman picked up a wooden candlestick and, after
admiring it, hit Harry Walters on the back of the head. The force of
the blow broke the candlestick and drove an island of bone against
Mr. Walters' brain. Mr. Walters remembered little else.
Sheri Walters, Harry and Marlene's daughter, came
home from work at about 3:45 p.m. At the bottom of the basement
steps, she found her father, barely alive, and her mother, dead.
Both had ligatures around their throats and electrical cords tied
around their bare feet. Her mother's hands were bound behind her
back and her father's hands were handcuffed behind his back. Her
mother's head was covered with a bloody sheet.
Expert testimony indicated Marlene Walters had
been struck on the head approximately twenty to twenty-five times.
Twelve lacerations, some of which were made with a pair of vice
grips, covered her face and scalp. The back of her skull was smashed
to pieces. Parts of her skull and brain were missing.
The living room hallway, and basement, were
splattered with blood. Fragments of a broken soda bottle, bearing
Coleman's fingerprints, were found in the living room. Strands of
Marlene Walters' hair were found on a blood- stained magazine rack
located in the living room.
Bloody footprints, made by two different kinds of
shoes, were found in the basement. The family car, a red Plymouth
Reliant, was gone. Money, jewelry, and shoes had been stolen. Left
behind were two bicycles, clothes and shoes.
Coleman was found guilty of aggravated murder
while committing aggravated burglary under R.C. 2903.01 . The jury
found Coleman was the principal offender of this offense. He was
also found to be a participant in a course of conduct involving the
purposeful attempt to kill two or more persons pursuant to R.C.
The jury also found Coleman guilty of aggravated
murder while committing aggravated robbery under R.C. 2903.01 and
found he was the principal offender. They also found, as in the
first charge, that Coleman participated in a course of conduct
involving the purposeful attempt to kill two or more people.
Finally, the jury found Coleman guilty of
attempted aggravated murder, aggravated robbery (theft of a motor
vehicle and other personal property, after inflicting serious
physical harm upon Harry Walters), and aggravated burglary. The jury
concluded that the death penalty was appropriate and the trial judge
People v. Coleman,
544 N.E.2d 330 (Ill. 1989) (Direct Appeal).
The defendant, Alton Coleman, was charged by
indictment in the circuit court of Lake County for the murder (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983,
ch. 38, pars. 9- 1(a)(2), (a)(3)) and aggravated kidnapping (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983,
ch. 38, par. 10-2(a)(3)) of Vernita Wheat.
A jury found the defendant guilty of each charge.
The State requested a hearing to consider whether the death penalty
should be imposed. (Ill.Rev.Stat.1983, ch. 38, par. 9-1(d).) The
same jury found the defendant eligible for the death penalty and
found there were no mitigating factors sufficient to preclude a
sentence of death.
The circuit court sentenced the defendant to
death and to a 15-year term of imprisonment on the aggravated
kidnapping conviction. The death sentence was stayed (107 Ill.2d R.
609(a)) pending direct appeal to this court (Ill. Const.1970, art.
VI, § 4(b); 107 Ill.2d R. 603).
The following evidence was adduced at the guilt
phase of the defendant's trial. The partially decomposed body of
nine-year-old Vernita Wheat was discovered in an abandoned building
in Waukegan, Illinois, on June 19, 1984. Her chest, neck and hands
were bound with cable wire.
Dr. Larry Blum, assigned to the case, determined
that the cause of death was ligature strangulation. Dr. Blum opined
that the death occurred approximately three weeks prior to the
discovery of the body.
Dr. Bernard Greenberg, a forensic entomologist,
studies the development of the fly larvae found on the victim's body
and opined that the body was deposited in the building on either May
29 or May 30.
Juanita Wheat, the victim's mother, testified
that at the time of the offense she resided in Kenosha, Wisconsin,
with her daughter, Vernita, and her seven- year-old son, Brandon.
At the end of April or beginning of May of 1984,
the defendant introduced himself to Juanita as Robert Knight, showed
her an identification card bearing that name, and told her he lived
two blocks away.
The defendant actually lived in Waukegan. That
evening the defendant ate dinner with Juanita at her apartment and
played with her children.
Several days later the defendant returned to
Juanita's apartment, spent time with Juanita and her children, and
met Juanita's cousin, Willie Mae Peebles.
On May 29, 1984, the defendant returned to
Juanita's apartment building and without invitation entered the
apartment of Juanita's neighbor, Ellen Reeves, whom Juanita was
visiting. Juanita introduced the defendant to Reeves.
With Juanita's permission, the defendant then
took the children to a carnival, and returned them to Juanita's
apartment by 10:15 p.m. Juanita then allowed Vernita to accompany
the defendant to his apartment "to pick up a stereo system."
When the defendant had not returned Vernita by
10:45 p.m., Juanita and Reeves began searching for her.
Approximately one hour later Juanita telephoned the police.
On the following day, Juanita and Reeves
identified the defendant's photograph at the police station.
Juanita, Reeves and Peebles identified the defendant in court.
Ernesto Zertuche, a patron of an establishment in
Kenosha called the "400 Club," testified that a black man and a
black girl entered the establishment at approximately 11:35 p.m. on
May 29, 1984, and the man immediately used the telephone.
A few minutes later a cab arrived to pick up the
man and girl. Zertuche identified a photograph of Vernita Wheat as
the girl he had seen at the 400 Club.
David McIntosh, another patron, corroborated the
testimony of Zertuche. McIntosh identified the defendant and
identified a photograph of Vernita Wheat as the man and girl he had
seen at the 400 Club.
Keith Hach, a cab driver, testified that his cab
was dispatched to the 400 Club at 11:35 p.m. on May 29, 1984. Once
he arrived, a black man and black girl entered his cab. The man
directed Hach to drive them to Zion, Illinois, "to pick up a stereo
When they arrived at the designated house, the
man tapped Hach on the shoulder and told him to drive them to
Waukegan. Hach drove the man and girl to "Slater's Barbecue" in
James Adams, an employee at the Diamond Scrap
Yard located next to Slater's Barbecue, testified that he was
working during the early morning hours of May 30, 1984.
At approximately 1:30 a.m., he saw a black man
and a black girl walking "in the middle of the street as if they had
came out of Slater's."
On behalf of the defense, Anna Ross testified
that she saw the defendant and Vernita Wheat walking past her house
during the afternoon of May 30, 1984. Ross waved to Vernita and
Vernita waved back.
Patricia Parks, a friend of the defendant,
testified that the defendant came to her residence during the
morning of May 31, 1984, and asked her to leave town with him. She
Joseph Thompson, another friend of the defendant,
testified that he drove the defendant to a "record shop" in Chicago
at approximately noon on May 31, 1984, so that the defendant could
obtain false identification cards. Afterwards, Thompson drove the
defendant to a train station in Evanston, Illinois.
Terri Coleman, the defendant's sister, testified
that the defendant visited with her briefly at her house in Waukegan
at approximately 7 p.m. on May 31, 1984. She informed the defendant
that the police had asked her about a "girl in Kenosha."
Officer Michael Bettasso testified that he was
dispatched to Terri Coleman's house at 7 p.m. on May 31, 1984. He
stated that the police had information that a cab had taken the
defendant to that location.
When Officer Bettasso arrived, he saw a black man,
whom he identified as the defendant, leaving the house.
The defendant saw Officer Bettasso, turned and
fled. Officer Bettasso pursued the defendant, but was unable to
On June 19, 1984, Andrew Greenwood and Murry
Smith discovered Vernita Wheat's body in the bathroom of an
abandoned building in Waukegan. The abandoned building was located
two blocks from Slater's Barbecue.
Greenwood telephoned the police. After an
investigation of the premises, two fingerprints were discovered on
the door of the bathroom: the first was unidentified and the second
was identified as the defendant's.
The defendant was arrested in Evanston, Illinois,
at approximately 10:40 a.m. on July 20, 1984. That afternoon the
defendant told the police that he knew Juanita Wheat, but denied
that he knew or killed Vernita Wheat.
244 F.3d 533
Alton Coleman, Petitioner-Appellant,
Betty Mitchell, Warden, Respondent-Appellee.
Docket number: 98-3546
Federal Circuits, 6th Cir.
March 26, 2001
Appeal from the United States District Court for
the Southern District of Ohio at Cincinnati. Nos. 94-00863,
94-00864, Sandra S. Beckwith, District Judge.
Before: MERRITT, RYAN, and BOGGS, Circuit Judges.
RYAN, Circuit Judge.
Petitioner Alton Coleman has been convicted of
murder in an Ohio state court and has been sentenced to death. He
now appeals the district court's order dismissing his habeas corpus
petition brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 2254. Coleman raises several
assignments of error, the most serious of which are: (1) the
district court erred when it held that Coleman had procedurally
defaulted on 34 of the 50 claims raised in his habeas petition; (2)
his constitutional due process rights were violated because of
prosecutorial misconductand the introduction of "other acts"
evidence; and (3) he was denied effective assistance of counsel at
sentencing because his attorneys failed to fully investigate his
background and mental health for purposes of offering evidence in
mitigation. For the reasons discussed below, we will affirm the
judgment of the district court.
On July 13, 1984, Coleman and his girlfriend,
Debra D. Brown, arrived via bicycle in Norwood, Ohio, and stopped at
the home of Harry and Marlene Walters around 9:30 a.m. After
inquiring about a camping trailer the Walterses had for sale,
Coleman and Brown were invited into the Walterses' home. Once inside,
Coleman picked up a wooden candlestick and began striking Mr.
Walters on the back of the head.
When the Walterses' daughter, Sheri, arrived home
from work around 3:45 p.m. the same day, she found the house
splattered with blood and her parents' motionless bodies lying at
the bottom of the basement steps. Mr. Walters, barely breathing, had
his hands handcuffed behind his back and his feet tied together with
electrical cords. Mrs. Walters, already dead, had a bloody sheet
covering her head. Her hands were bound behind her back and her feet
were tied together with electrical cords. At trial, expert testimony
indicated that Mrs. Walters had been struck on the head
approximately 25 times. Twelve lacerations, several made with a pair
of vise grips, covered her face and scalp. The back of her skull was
smashed to pieces, and parts of both her skull and brain were
missing. Mr. Walters survived the beating with some degree of brain
Money, jewelry, shoes, and the family car had
been stolen. Two bicycles were found abandoned in the Walterses'
yard, and Coleman's fingerprints were found on a broken soda bottle
in the living room.
Coleman and Brown have been implicated in several
murders, rapes, kidnappings, and armed robberies that were committed
in several Midwestern states during the summer of 1984.
A Hamilton County grand jury indicted Coleman on
the following five counts: (1) aggravated murder while committing
aggravated burglary; (2) aggravated murder while committing
aggravated robbery; (3) attempted aggravated murder; (4) aggravated
robbery; and (5) aggravated burglary. Following trial, an Ohio jury
returned a verdict of guilty on all charges and Coleman was
sentenced to death for the aggravated murder of Mrs. Walters.
Coleman's judgment of conviction and his death sentence were
affirmed by the Ohio Court of Appeals, State v. Coleman, Nos.
C-850340, B-842559A, 1986 WL 14070 (Ohio Ct. App. Dec. 10, 1986),
and the Ohio Supreme Court, State v. Coleman, 525 N.E.2d 792 (Ohio
1988). The United States Supreme Court denied certiorari, Coleman v.
488 U.S. 900 (1988).
Coleman then petitioned the trial court for post-conviction
relief pursuant to Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2953.21. The trial court,
without conducting an evidentiary hearing, adopted the state's
proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law and denied relief.
The Ohio Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision, State
v. Coleman, No. C-900811, 1993 WL 74756 (Ohio Ct. App. Mar. 17,
1993), and the Ohio Supreme Court dismissed Coleman's appeal, ruling
that it lacked jurisdiction, State v. Coleman, 619 N.E.2d 419 (Ohio
On July 9, 1993, Coleman filed an Application for
Delayed Reconsideration in the Ohio Court of Appeals alleging that
his counsel on direct appeal had been constitutionally ineffective.
The Court of Appeals denied the application, ruling that Coleman had
failed to show good cause for filing itmore than 90 days after the
court's judgment. See Ohio App. R. 26(B)(2)(b). On October 7, 1994,
the Ohio Supreme Court affirmed the Court of Appeals' decision,
denied Coleman's request for reconsideration, and revoked the stay
of execution on Coleman's death sentence.
On January 6, 1995, Coleman filed his habeas
corpus petition in federal court. He brought 50 assignments of
error. The district court concluded that 34 of the assignments of
error were procedurally barred because Coleman had failed to raise
them on direct appeal in state court. The remaining assignments of
error were found to be without merit.
On February 13, 1995, the district court granted
Coleman's motion to consolidate three habeas cases: the sentence of
death for the murder of Mrs. Walters; a second sentence of death
from his conviction for another murder in Ohio; and a conviction for
interstate kidnapping. On February 13, 1998, the district court
denied, inter alia, Coleman's habeas corpuspetition pertaining to
the murder of Mrs. Walters.
Coleman timely appealed the district court's
judgment in the consolidated case, and this court then severed
Coleman's appeal. Consequently, this appeal pertains only to the
denial of habeas corpus relief in the capital case involving the
death of Mrs. Walters.
Because Coleman's habeas petition was filed on
January 6, 1995, before the Antiterrorism and Effective Death
Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA), Pub. L. No. 104-132, 110 Stat. 1214
(1996), became effective on April 24, 1996, the pre-AEDPA standard
of review applies. See 28 U.S.C. 2254 (1996). This court must review
the district court's legal conclusions denovo and its findings of
fact for clear error. Rickman v. Bell,
131 F.3d 1150, 1153 (6th Cir. 1997). And we must defer
to state court factual findings pertaining to primary or historical
facts, which are presumed correct and are rebuttable only by clear
and convincing evidence. See id. State court determinations of law
and mixed questions of law and fact should be reviewed de novo. Id.
The district court concluded that Coleman had
procedurally defaulted on 34 of the 50 claims raised in his
habeaspetition because of failure to comply with Ohio's res judicata
doctrine established in State v. Perry, 226 N.E.2d 104 (Ohio 1967).
In Perry, the Ohio Supreme Court held:
Under the doctrine of res judicata, a final
judgment of conviction bars the convicted defendant from raising and
litigating in any proceeding, except an appeal from that judgment,
any defense or any claimed lack of due process that was raised or
could have been raised by the defendant at the trial which resulted
in that judgment of conviction or on an appeal from that judgment.
Id. at 108 (emphasis added).
Coleman contends that even if his claims are
procedurally defaulted for not having been raised on direct appeal,
his default is "excused" because his appellate counsel was
constitutionally ineffective for failing to properly raise the
issues in that appeal. Coleman cannot obtain federal habeas relief
under 28 U.S.C. 2254 unless he has completely exhausted his
available state court remedies by presenting his claims to the
state's highest court. See Coleman v. Thompson,
501 U.S. 722 , 731 (1991). And, he cannot circumvent
the exhaustion requirement by failing to comply with state
procedural rules. See id.at 731-32; Combs v. Coyle, 205 F.3d 269,
274 (6th Cir.), cert. denied, 121 S. Ct. 623 (2000).
When determining whether a state petitioner's
claim is barred from habeas review based on procedural default, this
court must look to the following fourfactors. First, the court must
determine that there is an applicable state procedural rule with
which the petitioner failed to comply. Maupin v. Smith, 785 F.2d
135, 138 (6th Cir. 1986). Second, the court must determine that the
state rule is one that is "firmly established and regularly followed."
Jones v. Toombs, 125 F.3d 945, 946 (6th Cir. 1997) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Third, the court must
determine that the state procedural rule is an "adequate and
independent" state ground on which the state may rely to foreclose
review of the federal constitutional claim. Maupin, 785 F.2d at 138.
If all three of these factors are met, the petitioner must then show
there was "cause" for the default and "prejudice" resulting
therefrom, or that a "miscarriage of justice" would result if the
procedural default were enforced. See Wainwright v. Sykes, 433 U.S.
72, 84-87, 90-91 (1977). A state procedural bar will be held to bar
federal habeas review only when the last reasoned decision of the
state court concluded that the claims were barred by a state
procedural rule. See Harris v. Reed, 489 U.S. 255, 263 (1989); Couch
v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 94, 96 (6th Cir. 1991).
In Edwards v. Carpenter, 529 U.S. 446, 120 S. Ct.
1587 (2000), the United States Supreme Court held that "an
ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claim asserted as cause for the
procedural default of another claim can itself be procedurally
defaulted." Id. at 1592. In this case, the petitioner has
procedurally defaulted on his claim that his appellate counsel was
ineffective because, as we will explain, he failed to bring the
claim in a timely manner as required by Ohio law, which is itself a
procedural bar. Therefore, in order for Coleman to use his
ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim as "cause" to
excuse his other procedurally defaulted claims, he must first meet
the cause and prejudice standard for the ineffective assistance of
appellate counsel claim itself. We conclude that Coleman has not
carried this burden.
According to Coleman, the district court erred in
declining to consider his ineffective assistance of appellate
counsel claim on the ground that the claim was procedurally barred.
As we have said, the Ohio Court of Appeals denied Coleman's effort
to have his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel claim
considered in his application for delayed reconsideration of his
direct appeal. The Court of Appeals ruled that the application was
untimely because it was not filed within 90 days of the original
Court of Appeals decision, as required by Ohio App. R. 26(B).
Coleman alleges that he asserted the claim in his petition for post-conviction
relief in the state trial court in 1990, rather than in an
application to reconsider his direct appeal, because there was no
regularly followed procedure in the Ohio courts for raising such
In February 1992, after conclusion of his direct
appeals to the Ohio Court of Appeals and Ohio Supreme Court, and
during the pendency of Coleman's appeal of the denial of his post-conviction
petition, the Ohio Supreme Court decidedState v. Murnahan, 584 N.E.2d
1204 (Ohio 1992). The Murnahan court held that ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel claims should be raised in a delayed
motion for reconsideration before the Ohio Court of Appeals and not
in a petition for post-conviction relief.
Coleman waited 16 months after Murnahan was
decided before filing his delayed motion for reconsideration in the
Court of Appeals on July 9, 1993, and the Court of Appeals dismissed
the application because it was more than 90 days after the court's
1986 decision and Coleman had not shown good cause for the delay, as
required by Ohio App. R. 26(B).
On July 1, 1993, Ohio App. R. 26(B) was amended
to provide, in pertinent part:
(B)Application for reopening(1)A defendant in a
criminal case may apply for reopening of the appeal from the
judgment of conviction and sentence, based on a claim of ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel. An application for reopening shall
be filed in the court of appeals where the appeal was decided within
ninety days from journalization of the appellate judgment unless the
applicant shows good cause for filing at a later time.
(2)An application for reopening shall contain
all of the following:
. . . . (b)A showing of good cause for untimely
filing if the application is filed more than ninety days after
journalization of the appellate judgment.
Ohio App. R. 26(B).
While Coleman's application was filed prior to
the amendment's effective date, the amendment governs further
proceedings in pending actions, unless it is shown that its
application would work an injustice. Coleman has not made this
Coleman argues that the 90-day filing period that
he missed should have been "tolled" due to the fact that the Ohio
Court of Appeals had not yet ruled on his petition for post-conviction
relief, which included a claim of ineffective assistance of
appellate counsel. Although he is not entirely clear about it,
Coleman seems to be arguing there was not a firmly established and
regularly followed procedural rule for raising ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel claims in 1986 when his appeal was
decided in the Ohio Court of Appeals, and therefore, no "adequate
and independent" state ground existed to foreclose review of the
federal constitutional claim. We do not find Coleman's argument
Before the Ohio Supreme Court's decision in
Murnahan, it was well established in the Ohio First Appellate
District, the appellate district in which Coleman's appeal was heard,
that claims of ineffective assistance of appellate counsel were to
be raised in a delayed motion for reconsideration and were not
cognizable in state post-conviction proceedings. See State v. Rone,
Nos. C-820322, B-784088, 1983 WL 8877 (Ohio Ct. App. June 1, 1983) (unpublished
disposition). Even assuming Coleman was confused by the proper forum
in which to initially bring his claim, he does not explain why he
did not ask the court to remove his ineffective appellate counsel
claim from his post-conviction petition without prejudice in order
to raise it in a timely manner in a Murnahan motion or why he waited
16 months after Murnahan was decided to raise the claim.
When a habeas petitioner has failed to show cause
for not asserting his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
claim properly in the Ohio courts, a federal court may not reach the
merits of the habeas claim unless the petitioner can show that
refusal to consider his claim would result in a fundamental
miscarriage of justice. The fundamental miscarriage of justice
exception requires a showing that "in light of the new evidence, no
juror, acting reasonably, would have voted to find him guilty beyond
a reasonable doubt." Schlup v. Delo, 513 U.S. 298, 329 (1995).
Coleman has not made this showing and does not claim to have done
Even if Coleman could offer an appropriate excuse
for failing to bring his ineffective assistance of appellate counsel
claim in a proper and timely manner, the claim is meritless. The
Edwards Court recently reemphasized that "[n]ot just any deficiency
in counsel's performance" is sufficient to excuse procedural default;
"the assistance must have been so ineffective as to violate the
Federal Constitution." Edwards, 120 S. Ct. at 1591. The proper
ineffective assistance of counsel standard was articulated by the
United States Supreme Court in Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S.
First, the defendant must show that counsel's
performance was deficient.This requires showing that counsel made
errors so serious that counsel was not functioning as the "counsel"
guaranteed the defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the
defendant must show that the deficient performance prejudiced the
defense. This requires showing that counsel's errors were so serious
as to deprive the defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is
Id. at 687.
On direct appeal to the Ohio First Appellate
District, Coleman's appellate counsel raised 15 assignments of error
and on direct appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, he asserted 11
assignments of error. After a careful review of the record, we are
in agreement with the district court that Coleman's appellate
counsel was not deficient for refusing to raise approximately 60
additional claims as Coleman suggests. Coleman does not have a
constitutional right to have his counsel press nonfrivolous points
if counsel decides as a matter of professional judgment not to press
those points. See Jones v. Barnes, 463 U.S. 745, 750-51 (1983).
In conclusion, because Coleman's ineffective
assistance of appellate counsel claim is itself procedurally
defaulted and he has not shown "cause and prejudice" for that
default, Coleman's ineffective assistance claim cannot serve as
"cause" to excuse his 34 procedurally defaulted claims.
Coleman next claims that his due process rights
were violated due to misconduct by the prosecutor.
Specifically, Coleman argues that the prosecution
failed to disclose the existence of the following: (1) an interview
conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on July 20,
1984; (2) items seized by the FBI from Coleman's grandmother's home;
(3) the identity of Linnroy Bottoson, who allegedly knew of
Coleman's whereabouts; (4)Coleman's alleged efforts to surrender;
(5) the prosecution's intention to persuade Debra Brown to cooperate
with them; (6) any exculpatory evidence concerning or relating to
Coleman; (7) psychological, psychiatric, and/or medical profiles,
reports, evaluations, and summaries concerning Coleman and/or Brown;
(8) background files, reports, information, and summaries concerning
Coleman and/or members of his family; (9) background information
regarding Coleman; and (10) any mitigating evidence concerning
Coleman. We agree with the district court that Coleman procedurally
defaulted on any claim related to the seventh item because he failed
to raise it on direct appeal, and the state court did not consider
it when ruling on Coleman's post-conviction petition.
In Brady v. Maryland, 373 U.S. 83 (1963), the
Supreme Court held that "the suppression by the prosecution of
evidence favorable to an accused upon request violates due process
where the evidence is material either to guilt or to punishment,
irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of the prosecution." Id.
at 87. "[T]here is never a real 'Brady violation' unless the
nondisclosure was so serious that there is a reasonable probability
that the suppressed evidence would have produced a different verdict."
Strickler v. Greene, 527 U.S. 263, 281 (1999). Furthermore, there is
no Brady violation if the defendant knew or should have known the
essential facts necessary to obtain the information in question. See
Coe v. Bell, 161 F.3d 320, 344 (6th Cir. 1998), cert. denied,
528 U.S. 842 (1999).
Without deciding that the items described by
Coleman were withheld from him as he alleges, we are satisfied that
even if they had been supplied to him, theverdict would have been
the same because the quantity and quality of the evidence introduced
to prove Coleman's guilt was overwhelming. Consequently, Coleman is
unable to show that he was "prejudiced" by not having the
information, and there is no Brady violation.
Coleman also claims that he was denied due
process of law because the state introduced evidence of "other acts,"
including murder, for which he was not on trial.
"Other acts" evidence may be introduced in
certain situations pursuant to Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2945.59 and
Ohio Evid. R. 404(B). Section 2945.59 provides:
In any criminal case in which the defendant's
motive or intent, the absence of mistake or accident on his part, or
the defendant's scheme, plan, or system in doing an act is material,
any acts of the defendant which tend to show his motive or intent,
the absence of mistake or accident on his part, or the defendant's
scheme, plan, or system in doing the act in question may be proved,
whether they are contemporaneous with or prior or subsequent thereto,
notwithstanding that such proof may show or tend to show the
commission of another crime by the defendant.
Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2945.59.
And, Ohio Evid. R. 404(B) specifies:
Evidence of other crimes, wrongs, or acts is not
admissible to prove the character of a person in order to show that
he acted in conformity therewith. It may, however, be admissible for
other purposes, such as proof of motive, opportunity, intent,
preparation, plan, knowledge, identity, or absence of mistake or
Ohio Evid. R. 404(B).
Coleman contends that the "other acts" evidence
introduced at trial linking him to other murder cases violated his
right to due process and a fair trial because the evidence was
dissimilar to the crime involving Mrs. Walters and irrelevant to the
issues of scheme, motive, intent, system, or absence of mistake or
The respondent answers that the "other acts"
evidence was admissible because of its similarity to the case
involving Mrs. Walters since it shows that Coleman was involved in
other cases involving: (1) elderly couples; (2) use of deception to
enter the victim's home; (3) use of handcuffs; (4) use of electrical
cords to tie the victim's hands and feet; (5) the incapacitation of
the victim's telephone; (6) the theft of the victim's motor vehicle;
and (7) a conspiracy with Debra Brown. Although the respondent's
argument is not entirely clear, we take it to be that the "other
acts" evidence was introduced to show that Mrs. Walters's killer
used the same modus operandi that Coleman used in the other killings--his
"signature," so to speak--and therefore, that the "other acts"
evidence was admissible as tending to prove Coleman's identity as
the killer in this case. This is, of course, a familiar
justification for the introduction of "other acts" evidence pursuant
to Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 2945.59 and Ohio Evid. R. 404(B).
Because this is an appeal from a habeas corpus
decision and not an appeal of Coleman's state conviction, we do not
pass upon "errors in the application of state law, especially
rulings regarding the admission or exclusion of evidence." Cooper v.
Sowders, 837 F.2d 284, 286 (6th Cir. 1998). A state court
evidentiary ruling will be reviewed by a federal habeas court only
if it were so fundamentally unfair as to violate the petitioner's
due process rights. See Seymour v. Walker, 224 F.3d 542, 552 (6th
The trial court's explanation for the admission
of the "other acts" evidence included:
In many of these other offenses, the evidence
showed that the defendant used the same method of operation;that he
would handcuff his victims and the majority of his assaults on their
persons would occur after they were bound and defenseless. It should
be noted that all of the victims of other crimes by the defendant
who testified in this trial were elderly people, many of them frail,
and most all of them incapable of defending themselves against the
defendant's attack and most certainly when they were at the
disadvantage of having their hands bound with handcuffs, electrical
cord or similar ligatures.
We agree with the trial court that the "other
acts" evidence was relevant because it showed that the methodology
the killer used in Mrs. Walters's death closely resembled that used
in other crimes committed by Coleman and thus tended to show that
Coleman was Mrs. Walters's killer. Accordingly, the admission of the
evidence was not fundamentally unfair and did not violate Coleman's
due process rights.
Coleman alleges that the district court erred in
denying him an evidentiary hearing to reexamine the factual issues
resolved by the state courts because he was never afforded the
opportunity to develop and litigate the factual bases for his
federal constitutional claims. In a habeas proceeding, state court
findings of fact enjoy a presumption of correctness. SeeRickman, 131
F.3d at 1153. In order for Coleman to prevail on this claim, he must
rebut this presumption of correctness with clear and convincing
evidence. See id. The record reveals that Coleman was given the
opportunity to fully and fairly litigate his claims in the Ohio
courts and failed to do so. Because Coleman has done nothing to
rebut the presumption of correctness given to the factual issues
resolved by the state court, his due process rights have not been
violated by the denial of an evidentiary hearing in the federal
Coleman raises a number of challenges to Ohio's
capital punishment scheme both on its face and as applied to his
case. The district court rejected each of Coleman's claims. We agree
that the claims relating to Ohio's capital punishment scheme are
either procedurally defaulted or are lacking in merit, substantially
for the reasons given in the district court opinion.
Coleman also contends that he was denied the
effective assistance of counsel during sentencing as guaranteed by
the Sixth Amendment because his attorneys had a duty to investigate
all possible mitigating factors, including those relating to
Coleman's mental health background, and counsel breached this duty
by failing to conduct a complete, independent investigation. We are
not entirely convinced that Coleman properly raised this claim on
direct appeal; indeed, we are inclined to think the claim was
procedurally defaulted. However, the respondent stipulated that
Coleman "may be deemed to have fairly presented [this] issue in
state court," so we will address the merits of the claim.
Specifically, Coleman alleges four errors
committed by his counsel at sentencing: (1) failure to demand a
hearing and determination concerning both his competency to waive
presentation of mitigation evidence and his refusal to cooperate
with trial counsel in providing information for an appropriate
investigation of mitigating factors; (2) failure to obtain the
necessary reports and evaluations from the appropriate experts for
use as evidence at the mitigation phase of the proceedings; (3)
failure to raise the issue of the constitutional impropriety of
Coleman effectively waiving the presentation of mitigation evidence
at the sentencing phase of the proceedings; and (4) failure to
request the appointment of an investigator, mitigation specialist,
and/or psychologist to assist inthe investigation, preparation, and
presentation of mitigating evidence.
To repeat, the Strickland Court articulated the
following test for determining the effectiveness of counsel: First,
the defendant must show that counsel's performance was deficient.
This requires showing that counsel made errors so serious that
counsel was not functioning as the "counsel" guaranteed the
defendant by the Sixth Amendment. Second, the defendant must show
that the deficient performance prejudiced the defense. This requires
showing that counsel's errors were so serious as to deprive the
defendant of a fair trial, a trial whose result is reliable.
Strickland, 466 U.S. at 687.
When elaborating on the "prejudice" prong of this
test, the Strickland Court stated:
It is not enough for the defendant to show that
the errors had some conceivable effect on the outcome of the
proceeding. Virtually every act or omission of counsel would meet
that test, and not every error that conceivably could have
influenced the outcome undermines the reliability of the result of
the proceeding. . . .
[T]he appropriate test for prejudice finds its
roots in the test for materiality of exculpatory information not
disclosed to the defense by the prosecution, and in the test for
materiality of testimony made unavailable to the defense by
Government deportation of a witness. The defendant must show that
there is a reasonable probability that, but for counsel's
unprofessional errors, the result of the proceeding would have been
different. A reasonable probability is a probability sufficient to
undermine confidence in the outcome.
Id. at 693-94 (citations omitted).
In this case, counsel proceeded with a so-called
"residual doubt theory" because Coleman instructed him to do so.
Residual doubt has been described as a theory that creates "a
lingering uncertainty about facts, a state of mind that exists
somewhere between 'beyond a reasonable doubt' and 'absolute
certainty.'" Franklin v. Lynaugh, 487 U.S. 164, 188 (1988) (O'Connor,
J., concurring). In State v. McGuire, 686 N.E.2d 1112 (Ohio 1997),
the Ohio Supreme Court explained:
Residual or lingering doubt as to the defendant's
guilt or innocence is not a factor relevant to the imposition of the
death sentence because it has nothing to do with the nature and
circumstances of the offense or the history, character, and
background of the offender....
Our system requires that the prosecution prove
all elements of a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. Therefore, it is
illogical to find that the defendant is guilty beyond a reasonable
doubt, yet then doubt the certainty of the guilty verdict by
recommending mercy in case a mistake has occurred. Residual doubt
casts a shadow over the reliability and credibility of our legal
system in that it allows the jury to second-guess its verdict of
guilt in the separate penalty phase of a murder trial. . . .
Residual doubt is not an acceptable mitigating
factor under R.C. 2929.04(B), since it is irrelevant to the issue of
whether the defendant should be sentenced to death.
Id. at 1123 (emphasis added) (citations omitted).
We recognized in Mapes v. Coyle, 171 F.3d 408
(6th Cir.), cert. denied,
528 U.S. 946 (1999):
Under the Ohio statute, a capital defendant found
guilty of a death specification has to present some mitigating
evidence in order to avoid the death penalty. If a jury has nothing
to weigh against the aggravating circumstance, it almost certainly
must find that the aggravating circumstance outweighs the (nonexistent)mitigating
circumstances, and recommend death.
Id. at 426.
And, the Mapes court also stated that "when a
client faces the prospect of being put to death unless counsel
obtains and presents something in mitigation, minimal standards
require some investigation." Id. Recently, in Carter v. Bell, 218
F.3d 581, 600 (6th Cir. 2000), and Skaggs v. Parker,
235 F.3d 261, 269, 271 (6th Cir. 2000), this court has
held that failure to investigate possible mitigating factors and
failure to present mitigating evidence at sentencing can constitute
ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth Amendment.
But, this case is distinguishable from Mapes,
Carter, and Skaggs because after the various options for proceeding
in the sentencing phase of the case were explained to him, Coleman
directed his counsel to proceed with the residual doubt theory,
which did not include the introduction of mitigating evidence
relating to Coleman's past mental history. Coleman now argues that
his counsel was ineffective for following his instructions because
counsel should have realized that he lacked the competence needed to
choose an appropriate sentencing strategy.
It is well established that a criminal defendant
may not be tried unless he is competent. Godinez v. Moran, 509 U.S.
389, 396 (1993). To be competent for trial, a defendant must have "sufficient
ability to consult with his lawyers and a reasonable degree of
rational and factual understanding of the proceedings against him."
United States v. Ford, 184 F.3d 566, 580 (6th Cir. 1999), cert.
528 U.S. 1161 (2000). Godinez clarified that the level
of competence needed to waive counsel is the same as that needed to
stand trial. See Godinez, 509 U.S. at 399.
We believe that the Godinez standard should also
apply here to determine whether Coleman was competent enough to
instruct his counsel as to the appropriate strategy to pursue at
sentencing. As the district court recognized, "Coleman acted as co-counsel
to the extent of addressing the jury, examining at least one witness,
and participating in side-bench conferences between counsel and the
judge, as well as presenting his own motions." (Internal quotation
marks omitted.) Nothing in the trial record that memorializes
Coleman's extensive participation in the trial suggests that he
lacked a "rational and factual understanding" of the proceedings
against him and the potential impact of utilizing a residual doubt
theory at sentencing.
While recent decisions from this court have
emphasized that failure to present mitigating evidence at sentencing
may constitute ineffective assistance of counsel under the Sixth
Amendment, counsel may nevertheless make a reasonable decision that
investigation is not necessary. See Strickland, 466 U.S. at 691.
Indeed, the Strickland Court noted that "[t]he reasonableness of
counsel's actions may be determined or substantially influenced by
the defendant's own statements or actions. Counsel's actions are
usually based, quite properly, on informed strategic choices made by
the defendant and on information supplied by the defendant." Id.
Coleman admits that he did not cooperate with counsel regarding the
investigation and identification of mitigating evidence; imposed
restrictions upon counsel; and refused to submit to further
psychological or psychiatric testing. After presenting Coleman with
his options, counsel proceeded with the residual doubt theory only
at Coleman's direction. Coleman was competent to stand trial and
competent to assist his lawyer with strategic choices. He repeatedly
advised his lawyer to proceed with the residual doubt theory and not
to investigate possible mitigating factors. An attorney's conduct is
not deficient simply for following his client's instructions.See
Jones, 463 U.S. at 751-52. The petitioner was not deprived of his
Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel at
sentencing under the Strickland standard.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the
district court is AFFIRMED
[Cite as In re Coleman, 95 Ohio St.3d 284,
Ohio Supreme Court
IN RE COLEMAN.
Submitted April 17, 2002 -- Decided April 19, 2002.
Habeas corpus -- Relief denied when adequate
remedy existed on direct appeal -- Claim not raised in direct appeal
-- Petition denied.
IN HABEAS CORPUS.
Petitioner, Alton Coleman, is scheduled to be
executed on April 26, 2002, for the aggravated murder of Marlene
Walters. He was convicted of this offense in 1985. We affirmed his
conviction and death sentence in State v. Coleman (1988), 37 Ohio St.3d
286, 525 N.E.2d 792. Coleman has also completed the state
postconviction review process. See State v. Coleman (Mar. 17, 1993),
Hamilton App. No. C-900811, 1993 WL 74756, jurisdictional motion
overruled (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 1450, 619 N.E.2d 419. In State v.
Coleman (1994), 70 Ohio St.3d 1407, 637 N.E.2d 5, we affirmed the
judgment of the court of appeals rejecting Coleman's motion to
reinstate his direct appeal. Subsequently, the United States
District Court for the Southern District of Ohio denied Coleman
federal habeas corpus relief. The United States Court of Appeals for
the Sixth Circuit affirmed that judgment. Coleman v. Mitchell (C.A.6,
2001), 244 F.3d 533, certiorari denied (2001), __ U.S. __, 122 S.Ct.
405, 151 L.Ed.2d 307.
Coleman has now filed a petition in habeas
corpus, invoking the original jurisdiction of this court under
Section 2(B)(1)(c), Article IV of the Ohio Constitution.
Accompanying his petition is a motion for an
alternative writ of habeas corpus, requesting a stay of execution.
- 1 -
SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITING
According to the petition, the state improperly
removed 9 of 12 black prospective jurors by means of peremptory
challenges at Coleman's trial in 1985.
Coleman objected, but the prosecutor declined to
explain why he had challenged the jurors in question, and the trial
court did not require the prosecutor to offer any explanation.
Citing Batson v. Kentucky (1986), 476 U.S. 79, 106 S.Ct. 1712, 90
L.Ed.2d 69, Coleman contends that we should determine whether there
was purposeful discrimination in the jury selection.
Coleman's petition is insufficient on its face to
warrant habeas relief. "[H]abeas corpus, like other extraordinary
writ actions, is not available when there is an adequate remedy at
law." Gaskins v. Shiplevy (1996), 76 Ohio St.3d 380, 383, 667 N.E.2d
1194. See, also, State ex rel. Fryerson v. Tate (1999), 84 Ohio St.3d
481, 485, 705 N.E.2d 353; State ex rel. Pirman v. Money (1994), 69
Ohio St.3d 591, 593, 635 N.E.2d 26. Coleman had a fully adequate
remedy at law: he could have raised this issue on direct appeal. He
knew that the claim existed, for he had raised it in the trial court.
Moreover, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in
Batson v. Kentucky on April 30, 1986, over seven months before the
Court of Appeals for the First Appellate District issued its
decision affirming his conviction.
Yet, as Coleman concedes, he did not raise this
claim on direct appeal.
A litigant may not use habeas corpus as a
substitute for appeal. See, e.g., Ex parte Womack (1960), 171 Ohio
St. 392, 14 O.O.2d 150, 171 N.E.2d 514; In re Piazza (1966), 7 Ohio
St.2d 102, 36 O.O.2d 84, 218 N.E.2d 459; Bellman v. Jago (1988), 38
Ohio St.3d 55, 526 N.E.2d 308; Ellis v. McMackin (1992), 65 Ohio St.3d
161, 602 N.E.2d 611.
Because Coleman had an adequate remedy at law by
way of direct appeal, his claim is not cognizable in habeas corpus.
Accordingly, Coleman's petition must be denied. Moreover, since
Coleman's claim is at odds with settled habeas law, it merits
neither a stay of execution nor an alternative writ. We therefore
deny the motion for an alternative writ.
- 2 -
SUBJECT TO FURTHER EDITING Writ denied; motion
MOYER, C.J., DOUGLAS, RESNICK, F.E. SWEENEY,
PFEIFER, COOK and LUNDBERG STRATTON, JJ., concur.