Lisa Ann Coleman, 38, was executed by lethal injection on 17 September 2014 in Huntsville, Texas for the restraint and murder of a child living in her home.
On the morning of 26 July 2004, Marcella Larrrian Williams, 23, called 9-1-1, reporting that her 9-year-old-son, Davontae, was having "breathing difficulty." Paramedic Troy Brooks arrived moments later at Williams' Arlington apartment to find the boy lying on the bathroom floor wearing only a diaper and bandages. He was so "emaciated and underweight" that he had the appearance of a child 3 to 5 years old. Brooks saw that the boy was "obviously dead" because his body was already in full rigor mortis, which usually occurs several hours after death. Nevertheless, Williams stated that Davontae had just eaten and thrown up and that her girlfriend, Lisa Coleman, had been washing him. Williams reiterated that Davontae was breathing when she called 9-1-1.
A police investigator and a pediatrician observed over 250 wounds on Davontae's corpse, including a disfigured ear, swollen hands, a cut lip, and cigar or cigarette burns and ligature marks around his wrists and ankles that were consistent with him being bound repeatedly. There was also ligature scarring on his penis. The medical examiner concurred, finding broken bones and "life-threatening" blunt-force injuries on the victim, but determined that the victim's immediate cause of death was malnutrition accompanied by pneumonia. The 9-year-old weighed only 36 pounds at the time of his death.1
Investigators found a bloody golf club in the apartment. They also discovered a pantry that had a lock on the door. A dried urine stain was on the floor of the pantry.
A police detective questioned Coleman, then 28, about Davontae's death. Coleman told him that she lived with Williams about half of the time and with her own son and mother the other half. She said that on the night Davontae died, Williams woke her up, screaming. Williams attempted to revive him with CPR. Coleman said she put Davontae in a warm bath to revive him. She did not know how his arms and legs were injured.
For a killing to be classified as capital murder, the state must prove that one or more aggravating factors are present. The most common aggravating factor is the commission of another felony, such as burglary or kidnapping, at the same time as the murder. The victim's age can also be an aggravating factor, but at the time of Davontae's death, the victim had to be under six years old. In 2011, the Texas legislature changed the law so that the murder of a child ten years or younger is capital murder. In Davontae's case, The state charged Coleman and Williams with capital murder by arguing that the restraints used on the victim constituted kidnapping.
Child Protective Services had investigated Marcella Williams seven times, beginning in 1995 when she was 14 and Davontae was 2 months old. In 1999, the agency removed Davontae from Williams' custody because Coleman was physically abusing him. CPS returned the child to his mother a year later on the condition that he "not be around Lisa Coleman." Coleman, nevertheless, continued to interact with Davontae. CPS lost track of the family in 2002.
At Williams' trial, CPS investigator Edna Campbell testified that after Coleman was arrested for Davontae's murder, Coleman admitted to her that she had restrained Davontae with clothing on two occasions to keep him from hurting himself and others. She also admitted that she had hit and pushed the boy, causing him to fall into a bar stool and split his lip. She denied locking him in the pantry. Coleman told Campbell that "Marcella did not want to take [Davontae] to a doctor because she was afraid that once they saw the bruises and marks on him, that CPS would be called and ... her children would be taken away."
Davontae's 8-year-old sister, Destinee, testified that Coleman would tie up Davontae with an extension cord in the bathroom. She also testified that Coleman beat her and her sister with belts, clothes hangers, and extension cords.
A DNA expert testified that the blood stain on the head of the golf club found in the apartment had DNA that matched Davontae's DNA. The grip of the club contained DNA that matched Coleman's, but not Williams'.
The defense portrayed Davontae as very difficult to manage - a danger to both himself and others - and admitted that Williams and Coleman lacked the parenting skills to raise him properly. Coleman's lawyers claimed that his death was an accident.
Dr. Lesther Winkler, a pathologist who testified for the defense, stated that Davontae suffered from a breathing condition called aspiration pneumonia, which caused him to drown in his own vomit. Winkler agreed, however, that Davontae was malnourished.
Coleman had previous felony convictions in 1993 for cocaine possession and in 2000 for burglary. She was sentenced to 5 years in prison for the first conviction and 2 years for the second. Both times, she was released on parole prior to the completion of her sentence. She also had a misdemeanor conviction in 1997 for evading arrest.
1According to a chart published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the median weight - or 50th percentile - of a 9-year-old boy is 64 pounds. The 5th-percentile weight of a 9-year-old is 50 pounds. In other words, 95 percent of boys weigh 50 pounds or more at age 9.
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