Md. man convicted of 2nd-degree murder in girlfriend's death

By Ruben Castaneda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 9, 2009

A Forestville man who testified that he struck his girlfriend in self-defense after she attacked him was convicted of second-degree murder Tuesday by a Prince George's County jury.

After deliberating for about three hours, the jury convicted Joseph N. Coleman, 45, in the killing last year of Donna M. Brown. The jury acquitted Coleman of first-degree murder.

Brown, who was 39, died of blunt-force trauma and strangulation, according to an autopsy by the state medical examiner's office.

Relatives and friends of Brown's who attended the trial in the Upper Marlboro courthouse declined to comment on the verdict.

"This conviction is a just and fair one," State's Attorney Glenn F. Ivey said. "Crimes of passion do not excuse the behavior of this defendant. To strangle a woman to death is to steal her future away from her, and now we look forward to a future for the defendant behind bars for a long, long time."

Coleman faces a maximum of 30 years in prison. Circuit Court Judge Larnzell Martin Jr. scheduled sentencing for Feb. 5.

Coleman, who took the witness stand in his own defense, testified that he and Brown quarreled in his Forestville apartment Oct. 4, 2008.

Coleman said he often gave Brown large amounts of cash -- thousands of dollars at a time. On this evening, Brown was asking him for money to pay her mortgage, and he declined, Coleman testified.

Coleman said he also declined a sexual overture from Brown, who was wearing only panties. Brown started "acting corrupt," swearing at him, accusing him of providing money to another girlfriend and calling him dumb, Coleman testified.

"She started smacking me in the face and scratching me in the head," Coleman testified.

Coleman said he pushed Brown in self-defense, hit her in the face, and she fell. Coleman said Brown bit one of his fingers, and he grabbed her chin to pull it out. Coleman said he ran out of the apartment and eventually went to the nearby home of the woman who had raised him as a foster mother.

When he returned the next morning, Coleman said, he found Brown's body on the ground where he'd last seen her and called 911.

In her closing argument, Assistant State's Attorney Ann Wagner Stewart dismissed Coleman's account of self-defense as not credible.

The prosecutor showed photographs to the jury of Brown's bruised, bloodied face and a photo of Coleman taken by police shortly after the victim's body was found. The photo showed Coleman with small marks near his nose and an eye.

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