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Published: Friday, 4/26/2002

State executes Alton Coleman for role in Midwest crime spree


LUCASVILLE, Ohio (AP) - Alton Coleman, who was dealt the death penalty in three states for a 1984 Midwest crime spree, was executed by injection Friday as more than a dozen witnesses watched in person and on closed circuit television.

The time of death was 10:13 a.m., said Joe Case, a spokesman for Attorney General Betty Montgomery.

Coleman was wearing a white non-demonminational prayer shawl with stars of David on it and prison-issued navy blue pants with an orange stripe.

He was reciting the 23rd Psalm as he died.

Coleman, 46, was put to death for beating Marlene Walters to death in her home in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood.

Her husband, Harry, who also was beaten with a wooden candlestick and suffered brain damage, was among the witnesses who watched the execution at the Southern Ohio Correctional Facility.

Coleman was the only person under a death sentence in three states: Ohio, Illinois and Indiana.

He was suspected in as many as eight deaths, plus numerous robberies, rapes and kidnappings during the five-state spree with his girlfriend, Debra Denise Brown.

Because of the number of victims, Ohio prison officials decided for the first time to broadcast an execution via closed circuit to another prison room to accommodate the additional witnesses.

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

His attorneys said the transmission would turn his death into "a spectator sport." They said state law prohibits broadcasting equipment at executions and allows only three witnesses, to be chosen by the victim's family.

Gov. Bob Taft denied clemency, as he did in Ohio's three previous executions.

Coleman also received the death penalty for strangling Vernita Wheat, 9, whose body was found in his hometown of Waukegan, Ill., and for stomping and strangling 7-year-old Tamika Turks of Gary, Ind.

He and Brown also were sentenced to die for the torture and slaying of Tonnie Storey, 15, of Cincinnati two days before the Walters attack.

However, in 1991, then-Ohio Gov. Richard Celeste commuted Brown's sentence to life in prison, and Coleman eventually was ordered resentenced, which was pending.

Celeste said he concluded Brown was mentally retarded and was involved in a "master-slave" relationship with Coleman.

Brown, 39, remains imprisoned in Ohio and is fighting a death sentence in Indiana.

Coleman also was indicted, but not prosecuted, in the rape, beating and strangulation of Virginia Temple, 30, and her daughter Rachelle, 10. Their bodies were stuffed into a crawl space beneath their Toledo home.

By the time Coleman and Brown were arrested, on July 20, 1984, in Evanston, Ill., their crime spree had taken them through Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky and Ohio, police said.

"To this day, I cannot attribute any motive for my actions other than money for drugs," Coleman wrote to the Ohio parole board in his attempt to be spared.

Coleman's lawyers say his mother abused both drugs and alcohol while she was pregnant, altering the growth of Coleman's brain. He grew up mostly with his grandmother after his mother put him in a trash can when he was 6 months old, they said.

As a child, he witnessed group sex and prostitution in his home and was given a vulgar nickname because he could not control his urination or bowel movements until he was nearly a teen-ager.

Police and prosecutors, though, saw Coleman as a charismatic man who charmed his way into his victims' lives, then destroyed theirs.

Mrs. Walters, 44, had just served lemonade to Coleman and Brown when she was attacked. The couple had said they wanted to buy the Walters camper.

Hamilton County Prosecutor Michael Allen, whose Cincinnati office secured the sentence that got Coleman executed, called him "pure evil."

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