Texas woman set to die for starvation of child, 9

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Posted: Sep 17, 2014 6:39 PM
Texas woman set to die for starvation of child, 9

HUNTSVILLE, Texas (AP) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a last-day appeal from a Texas woman convicted of the starvation and torture death of her girlfriend's 9-year-old son a decade ago, clearing the way for her execution.

Lisa Coleman, 38, would be the ninth convicted killer and second woman to receive a lethal injection in Texas this year. Nationally, she would be only the 15th woman executed since the Supreme Court in 1976 allowed the death penalty to resume. During that same time, nearly 1,400 men have been executed.

Coleman was condemned for the death of Davontae Williams, whose emaciated body was found in July 2004 at the North Texas apartment Coleman shared with his mother, Marcella Williams.

Paramedics who found him dead said they were shocked to learn his age. He weighed 36 pounds, about half that of a normal 9-year-old. A pediatrician later would testify that he had more than 250 distinct injuries, including burns from cigarettes or cigars and scars from ligatures, and that a lack of food made him stop growing.

"There was not an inch on his body that not been bruised or scarred or injured," said Dixie Bersano, one of Coleman's trial prosecutors.

After a Tarrant County jury in 2006 convicted and sent Coleman to death row, Williams took a plea bargain and accepted a life prison sentence. Now 33, she's not eligible for parole until 2044.

Coleman's lawyer, John Stickels, had argued to the high court that while the child's hands were tied with clothesline at various times, it was "mostly a misguided means of discipline" used by both women. The aggravated factor of kidnapping, which made the charge against Coleman a capital murder case, was incorrect, making the jury's conviction on that charge also incorrect, Stickels contended.

"The position of Lisa Coleman is that she is not guilty of a capital crime as required by Texas law and should not be executed," he told the justices.

He also contended Coleman's trial lawyers were ineffective for not contesting the kidnap element and that lower appeals courts were wrong for rejecting the claim.

"She raises no new claims," Jefferson Clendenin, an assistant Texas attorney general, told the justices. "In short, Coleman's arguments do not have any merit, and there are no grounds for this court to revisit its adjudication of Coleman's claims."

At her trial, Coleman's lawyers said the boy's death at the apartment in Arlington was an accident. They said he may have had mental health issues that made him difficult to handle and Coleman and Williams didn't know how to deal with him in a positive manner.

Evidence showed child welfare officials repeatedly investigated the couple, and in 1999 removed Davontae and a younger sister and placed them in foster care after finding Coleman abused them. The children were returned in 2001 but authorities would lose track of the family because Williams kept moving to evade them, fearing the children would be taken away again.

One of Williams' two daughters, then 6, testified at Coleman's trial she'd been spanked with a belt, a hanger and an extension cord, and told of Coleman tying up her brother with an extension cord. DNA evidence also suggested Coleman struck the boy with a golf club.