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Published: Wednesday, 6/25/2008

Trial opens in slaying of Toledo man, 74

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Bunce Bunce
THE BLADE/AMY E. VOIGT Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Gayla Coleman recalled yesterday how unusual it was for her father not to answer the phone when she called. It was a gnawing fear that led her to his apartment more than three years ago.

There, she found his bloodied body on the floor.

Ms. Coleman testified in Lucas County Common Pleas Court as the first witness in the aggravated murder trial of Rodney Bunce.

She told the jury of six men and eight women she found the door open, a mess inside, and her father unresponsive when she arrived at Jessie Coleman's Buffalo Street apartment on March 7, 2005. "I asked if he was OK," she said yesterday, unable to hold back tears.

She recalled calling 911. "I hung up because I couldn't speak but then called right back," she said.

Mr. Coleman, 74, was found dead. He had been beaten severely and stabbed in the neck, Louis Kountouris, an assistant Lucas County prosecutor, said during opening statements.

He said two instruments were used by two different men and that the motive was robbery.

Bunce, 51, is charged with aggravated murder and aggravated robbery. Jurors can also consider the lesser alternative charge of murder, Mr. Kountouris said. If convicted, Bunce faces up to life in prison.

Jerry Hines, Jr., 44, is also charged in Mr. Coleman's death. He is in a Florida prison, awaiting extradition.

Mr. Kountouris told jurors Mr. Coleman lived in the building owned by Bunce's brother, Daniel Bunce, and that Mr. Coleman always paid his rent in cash. Bunce and Hines lived in a connected boarding house, he said.

Witnesses saw Bunce and Hines with cash and looking to buy drugs after the last time Mr. Coleman was seen alive, according to Mr. Kountouris, who also said the prosecutor's office has DNA evidence that will put Bunce at the scene.

Defense attorney John Thebes called the state's case "circumstantial," adding: "Nobody is going to come in this courtroom and say they saw Rodney killing this man."

The state's theory is that Mr. Coleman was killed the night of March 4, 2005, Mr. Thebes said.

However, a Lucas County deputy coroner has testified under oath that Mr. Coleman had been dead nearly 36 hours when his body was discovered March 7.

"That doesn't put us in the time frame that the state would have us believe this happened," Mr. Thebes said in opening statements.

He said Bunce had been interviewed eight times by six detectives over three years. Despite contentions of inconsistencies, Bunce never wavered on "his absolute denial in participating in the killing of Mr. Coleman."

Seven witnesses testified yesterday, including a cab driver who identified Bunce and Hines as two men he picked up at the Buffalo Street address March 3, 2005.

He could not, however, say where he dropped the men off.

The trial will resume today before Judge James Bates.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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