Saturday, April 27, 2002

Coleman dies for his crimes

Relatives of victims take grim satisfaction it's over

By Marie McCain,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LUCASVILLE, Ohio — Alton Coleman, who cut a murderous swath across at least four Midwest states in the summer of 1984, was executed by lethal injection Friday.

        He was pronounced dead at 10:13 a.m.

        Mr. Coleman, 46, was executed for the 1984 beating death of Norwood resident Marlene Walters, 44. He also faced death sentences in Illinois and Indiana.

        His last words were the first phrases of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He leadeth me to green pastures.”

        Prison officials said he had a fitful night before the execution.

        Mr. Coleman ordered a large meal on the night before his execution. He declined to shave or shower when he awoke between 4 and 5 a.m. Friday, prison officials said. He ate a single piece of toast.

        Prison officials say Mr. Coleman spent the time Thursday evening and early Friday with his attorneys and his spiritual advisers.

        Mr. Coleman, of Waukegan, Ill., was baptized Tuesday and was a follower of Dallas-based televangelist T.D. Jakes. As he was led into the death chamber, Mr. Coleman was wrapped in a white prayer shawl.

[photo] Death penalty opponent Berta Lambert of Over-the-Rhine protests outside the Lucasville Correctional Facility Friday.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        Nearly two dozen survivors and family members of Mr. Coleman's victims viewed the execution on two 25-inch televisions via closed-circuit feed in another part of the prison.

        They included Annie Hilliard, who was 9 years old when she and her 7-year-old niece Tamika Turks were brutalized by Mr. Coleman and his girlfriend, Debra Denise Brown, in Indiana on June 18, 1984.

        The pair killed Tamika and left Annie, now 27, for dead. She was found in a wooded area of Gary, Ind., by a passerby.

        Mary Hilliard, who identified herself as Tamika's grandmother, told reporters after the execution that the family wants the same fate for Ms. Brown.

        “We want her executed just like Alton Coleman,” she said. “We want her back in Indiana. We want the same thing that happened to him to happen to her. There will be no peace of mind until that happens.”

        Ms. Brown is serving a life sentence in Ohio and is incarcerated at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She faces the death penalty in Indiana for the Turks murder.

        Among witnesses in the death chamber itself was Harry Walters, who was attacked July 13, 1984, along with his wife, Marlene.

        The Walters family released a written statement after the execution: “In July of 1984 we lost ... a daughter, a wife, a mother, a sister, a grandmother, an aunt and a friend. Today, she received justice. We are thankful for that and hope that she may rest in peace.”

        When asked if Mr. Coleman has expressed remorse for his actions, prison director Reginald Wilkinson said, “It's not been an "I'm sorry' type of remorse. He's admitted what he's done in his own convoluted way.”

        One of Mr. Coleman's lawyers, Dale Baich, said later Friday that Mr. Coleman did apologize to the Walters family in a letter read at his clemency hearing. The letter did not address any of his other convictions.

        Members of Tonnie Storey's family, including her father Harry, and aunt Paulette Anderson, witnessed the execution via closed circuit television.

        The body of Miss Storey, 15, of Over-the-Rhine, was discovered inside a vacant building July 19, 1984. The teen-ager had been seen in the company of two people later identified as Mr. Coleman and Ms. Brown on July 11, 1984. Mr. Coleman had his death sentence for Ms. Storey's death overturned.

        Mr. Storey exclaimed, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Lord,” when Mr. Coleman was pronounced dead.

        Juanita Wheat, the mother of Vernita Wheat, who was 9 years old when she was killed by Mr. Coleman May 30, 1984, said, “This has been a torment. ... I'm glad it's over.” Her daughter died in Kenosha, Wis. Ms. Brown was not involved in that murder.

        Mr. Coleman is believed to have been responsible for as many as eight murders, seven rapes, three kidnappings and 14 armed robberies over a two-month period.

        In 1984, from May to July, he, along with Ms. Brown, traveled between Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky committing brutal crimes at random.

        The victims were children, the elderly, male and female, black and white. The pair were finally captured July 19, 1984, in Evanston, Ill.

        About 16 death penalty protesters 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.

        Mr. Coleman fought his execution through state and federal appeals courts and the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that he had ineffective counsel and that the state should not be allowed to telecast the execution.

        The Associated Press contributed.

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