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23rd Psalm leads killer into valley of death


Karen Wolf protests outside the Lucas County Courthouse in Toledo at the time of Alton Coleman's execution at Lucasville. She was among 20 who held a vigil against the death penalty.

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LUCASVILLE, Ohio - Serial killer Alton Coleman, one of the most notorious U.S. criminals of the late 20th century, was executed yesterday as he wore a multicolored prayer shawl and softly recited part of a psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He leadeth me to green pastures. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want,” were Coleman's last words, from the 23rd Psalm. The drug pavulon, injected into his arms, stopped his heart.

“It should have happened a long time ago,” Harry Storey said in a near whisper, as he clutched a picture of his 15-year-old daughter, Tonnie. She was killed by Coleman and Debra Brown in Cincinnati during a 53-day crime rampage that left a trail of murders, rapes, robberies, and abductions in six states nearly 18 years ago.

Coleman was 46, but he looked older. Fifteen pounds heavier than in 1984 and with his head shaved, he didn't resemble the smooth-talking con man who terrorized the Midwest with companion Brown.

For the first time in Ohio history, the state used closed-circuit TV to allow more witnesses to watch an execution. The reason: Coleman was the only person who received the death penalty in three states - Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois.

Mr. Storey, who wore a suit and a fedora, was among 15 witnesses from Indiana, Wisconsin, and Ohio who sat in a gray brick building behind the death house at the Lucasville prison.

They stared silently at two 25-inch televisions that captured Coleman's execution by injection of three drugs in the dimly lit, yellowish glow of the execution chamber.

Coleman and Brown were linked to eight slayings across Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Kentucky. Coleman was executed for the murder-robbery of 44-year-old Marlene Walters, a former teacher who lived in the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood.

His last day wasn't Coleman's first use of religion. At his 1986 trial for a murder in Gary, Ind., he sat at the defense table with a copy of The Great News, a version of the New Testament.

About half an hour after Coleman's death, Mary Hillard called on authorities to return Brown to Indiana to be executed for the murder of her 7-year-old granddaughter, Tamika Turks of Gary, Ind.

Brown, 39, is serving a life sentence at the Ohio Reformatory for Women in Marysville. She is appealing her death sentence in the federal courts. Her death sentence for the slaying of Tonnie Storey in Cincinnati was commuted to life in prison without parole by Democratic Gov. Richard Celeste shortly before he left office in 1991.

“One chapter has been closed, but there is another chapter, Debra Brown,” said Ms. Hillard. “We can't forget about Debra Brown. She took something away from us that she can't give back. Until this be done, there will be no peace.”

Those who watched Coleman's execution via closed-circuit TV included Raymond Temple, Sr., the ex-husband of Toledoan Virginia Temple; a son, Raymond, Jr., and a daughter, Kimberly. Raymond Temple, Sr., was a late substitute for another daughter, Angela, who chose not to witness the execution, state officials said.

Virginia Temple, 30, and her 9-year-old daughter, Rachelle, were murdered by Coleman and Brown. The Lucas County prosecutor's office dismissed charges against the two, hoping to speed up their executions.

Raymond Temple, Jr., was 6 years old and among four of Ms. Temple's children who were found unharmed in their home on July 7, 1984, when police found the bodies of their mother and oldest sister in a crawl space beneath their home in the 2900 block of Auburn Avenue.

“After Coleman and Brown killed them, Raymond woke up and [Brown] came upstairs and said, `If you don't go to sleep, he'll kill you too,' ” said Delores Shy, Ms. Temple's sister.

Raymond Temple, Jr., like the other relatives of victims who gathered at the Lucasville prison, indicated he did not want to talk to reporters, officials said.

Coleman's execution was scheduled for 10 a.m. But at 9:52 a.m., Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Thomas Moyer phoned state prison director Reginald Wilkinson at the Lucasville prison.

On Thursday afternoon, the high court denied a motion by Coleman's attorneys who asserted that state law bars the use of closed-circuit TV to allow more execution witnesses.

“Chief Justice Moyer wanted absolute clarification on the location of the auxiliary witness room,” said court spokesman Jay Wuebbold. Confident the court had acted on accurate information, the state moved forward with the execution.

At about 10:07 a.m., Coleman walked the 17 steps from his holding cell in the death house into the execution chamber.

He wore a white, fringed prayer shawl with blue and green stripes over a white shirt. He wore navy blue pants with orange stripes on the sides, and white athletic shoes.

The nondenominational shawl was a present from the congregation of one of Coleman's spiritual advisers, Bobby Garland. Mr. Garland, who is from Coleman's hometown of Waukegan, Ill., was one of the three witnesses whom Coleman chose.

Coleman appeared calm. After guards strapped him onto the gurney, he turned to his left twice and his lips moved - but the words weren't audible. He did not resist or try to raise his head. His eyes were closed.

The husband of Marlene Walters, Harry, and two sons-in-law who witnessed the execution didn't express much emotion.

Warden James Haviland asked Coleman if he had a final statement. As the warden held a microphone over him, Coleman said: “The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want” and he repeated part of the psalm.

One of Coleman's spiritual advisers, Larry Warner of Columbus, watched from the witness room and whispered: “Thank you, Jesus. Lord, take your son. No more pain. You are free.”

Coleman began to clench and unclench his left hand. As he recited the psalm, he became unconscious from sodium pentathol injected into his arms. His lips moved slower and then he stopped talking. His breathing became more rapid as his chest rose and fell quickly.

His chest then stopped moving after eight or nine deep breaths.

Suddenly, in the closed-circuit TV room, viewers saw a close-up shot of the brown curtain that signaled Coleman was dead.

Mr. Storey bowed his head. Latasha Turks, the sister of 7-year-old Tamika Turks, who was sexually assaulted and killed by Coleman in Gary, Ind., put her arm around her mother, Laverne Turks.

The warden announced that Coleman died at 10:13 a.m.

Annie Hillard, who survived a beating by Coleman when her niece Tamika Turks was killed, embraced Laverne and Latasha Turks.

Coleman stayed up most of his last night, getting most of his sleep between 4 a.m. and 5 a.m. He talked to one of his sisters for 22 minutes Thursday night, said Andrea Dean, a state prison system spokeswoman.

Coleman's brother, Donnie Bates, and two sisters, Jean and Terri, visited Coleman for seven hours on April 19 at the state prison in Mansfield, but they agreed it would be their last visit, said Coleman's attorney, assistant federal public defender Dale Baich.

A prison official told reporters that Coleman's brother and two sisters didn't show up and Coleman was disappointed. “I think it was a matter of transportation,” Ms. Dean said.

Coleman chose to skip breakfast. “He said he was quite full from his special meal'' Thursday night, Ms. Dean said.

Three days before his execution, Coleman was baptized at the state prison in Mansfield, where he was on Death Row. The denomination was Baptist, Ms. Dean said.

But Dorothy Duvendack was among those who didn't believe Coleman had embraced religion.

On July 7, 1984, Coleman talked his way into Frank and Dorothy Duvendacks' home near Toledo Hospital. The elderly couple said Coleman and Brown bound and gagged them, but left them unhurt after taking $190 and their car.

When told of Coleman's last words, Mrs. Duvendack, 92, replied: “Baloney. He uses all kinds of excuses.”

“He deserved to go,” she added.

For Delores Shy, the sister of Ms. Temple, the execution accomplished something she had wanted to do for several years - meet the other relatives of victims.

“I know their pain, and the saddest part is it took 18 years for the story to be told,” Ms. Shy said.

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