Martha Coleman, the key witness in the Vernon Jordan shooting, met today with FBI agents, ending a stalemate between law enforcement officials and her lawyer.
FBI officials said tonight that the meeting with Coleman was a "lengthy, exhaustive session and productive in the sense that she answered all questions that were posed to her." But nothing she said promised a breakthrough in the case, they said.
In Washington, FBI spokesman Roger Young added that the investigation has produced "nothing whatsoever that would indicate complicity on her part."
The meeting came as city officials said they were investigating whether Fort Wayne police kept Coleman from seeing her lawyer while they interrogated her at police headquarters the night of the attack. Her attorney had complained, and the friction arising from the incident appears to have been a key factor in the long delay authorities met in attempting to question Coleman again.
Her chief attorney, Charles F. Leonard, said he was confident that "she is not, in any way or fashion, responsible for this tragedy."
But he was plainly still upset over the police handling of his client after the attempt on Jordan's life last Thursday morning as the National Urban League president stepped out of Coleman's car.
"I don't have anything to hide," Coleman was quoted as saying in this afternoon's editions of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel. "I didn't see a thing out there. I told the police that when I talked to them. I didn't see any vehicle. I did not see any person out there. I heard the shot, but I didn't know what it was then. . . . I just saw him [Jordan] fall behind the car, that's all."
Leonard, meeting with reporters for the first time in his offices here, said he arrived at police headquarters last Thursday at 5:45 a.m., less than four hours after the shooting, in hopes of seeing Coleman, but was kept waiting until shortly after 7 a.m. when "I was advised she had left the building."
He said it was evident "early on" that police regarded her as a possible suspect. Leonard refused to state explicitly whether police denied him access to Coleman, but he said the incident at police headquarters "greatly troubled my client and greatly troubled me."
At a news conference this afternoon, Mayor Winfield Moses Jr. said police started questioning Coleman at the hotel after advising her of her rights and then brought her to police headquarters at 4:30 a.m. He said she signed a formal statement saying she had been informed of her rights and adding that "I do not want a lawyer at this time . . . No promises or threats have been made to me and no pressure or coercion of any kind has been used against me."
The mayor said officials are still trying to determine whether she was told of her lawyer's arrival at 5:45 a.m. Moses said the interrogation did not end until 6:30 a.m.
Coleman told a columnist friend on the News-Sentinel last Friday (the copyrighted story was published today) that she was "a nervous wreck," but she seemed remarkably cool and collected after the shooting. She got out of her red Grand Prix, saw Jordan lying on the ground, walked into the hotel lobby and told clerks there in what they described as matter-of-fact tones to call the police. She did not say who the victim was, according to the clerks. Then she began making calls in an effort to secure an attorney. She did not step outside again until an ambulance had taken Jordan to Parkview Memorial Hospital here.
Asked about her preoccupation with calling a lawyer, Leonard said she told him later, in effect: "Here was a national figure, it was 2 a.m., and he was shot getting out of my car. What would you do?"
Police still have no suspects in the shooting, and no ideas what the motive was. FBI agents have said it could be political, racial, or simply the act of a jealous suitor of Coleman, 36, who is divorced from her fourth husband.
Adding fresh details about Jordan and Coleman's activities before the shooting, Leonard said his client gave this account:
The two met for the first time at the Marriott Inn after the Fort Wayne Urban League's annual dinner there last Wednesday night. A member of the local Urban League Board who served on the dinner committee, Coleman was introduced to Jordan after the dinner. After several minutes of discussion they decided to get together in the cocktail lounge.
"Mrs. Coleman went to the bar first" and "selected a table for four." At one point, before Jordan arrived, she invited a black woman police officer she knew to join them, but the officer, who also had attended the dinner, chose to sit at another table.
Jordan arrived about five minutes later, around midnight, and the two "sat and talked" until about 12:30 or 12:35 a.m. when they left the cocktail lounge.
"They left the hotel at approximately 12:40" in Coleman's car and went to her house on the other side of town, where they spent 20 to 30 minutes. wLeonard said they had coffee together there and then left again for the hotel.
Asked why they didn't have coffee at the hotel, Leonard said: "I don't know. I don't ask her and she didn't suggest" a reason.
On the ride back to the Marriott, they noticed a long-haired motorcyclist who stayed ahead of them for most of the way. At a Y-shaped intersection, someone in a 1964 or 1965 Chevrolet sedan called out something like "derelict" or "deviate" at them. The car, carrying three white males, then drove off along one arm of the "Y" while Coleman and Jordan took the other, toward the Marriott.
Once back at the hotel, Coleman parked her car in a space about 50 feet from Jordan's first-floor room. Leonard said they were "sitting in the car for a maximum of five minutes" before Jordan got out and was shot as he walked around the back. The bullet came from a grassy slope overlooking the parking lot.
After the initial round of police questioning, Leonard said he told Coleman to go into seclusion until he got a grasp on the case. He did not see her until last Thursday afternoon, after missing her at the police station. He said they met again Sunday.
"It's been a little difficult to keep her in one place" Leonard said when asked why it took so long to sit down with his client again.
In any case, "she intends to answer each and every question put to her," the lawyer said. "She is very concerned that this matter be resolved. Her failure to come forward [before this] is because of me."
Leonard added that Coleman spoke to seven different law enforcement officers starting in the hours after the shooting, starting at the hotel. "She has in no way impeded the investigation," he said. "She could very well have refused to answer any questions put to her from the beginning, but she chose not to do so."
Although Coleman initiated efforts to get a lawyer shortly after the 2:05 a.m. shooting, she apparently contacted other individuals who finally called Leonard. A former federal prosecutor, he said he was first contacted at 5 a.m. and then went down to police headquarters. He said he has never represented her before.
Coleman is scheduled to meet with Fort Wayne police again Tuesday. Today's meeting with the FBI at an undisclosed location came after a false start at a downtown motel early this afternoon. FBI special agents in charge Wayne Davis canceled that conference after reporters and photographers discovered the site by tailing the FBI.
"She drove by and saw the press and did not want to subject herself to that," Davis said.
City police, meanwhile, announced that a search of a four-mile stretch of Interstate 69, which runs past the Marriott, was started today -- five days after the shooting -- in hopes of turning up some evidence. Moses said a makeshift campsite in a wooded area near the Marriott, discovered Sunday night, was apparently just "a childhood hideout."
The search is being conducted by Allen County sheriff's deputies. Asked why city police hadn't already done this, Deputy Fort Wayne Police Chief Ernest Walters told reporters: "It [the area] to be searched is in the county." He said the sheriff's department suggested it only this morning.
A check of a city map showed about a mile of the stretch -- and the area closest to the Marriott -- is within city limits.
At Parkview Hospital, where Jordan is recuperating, the civil rights leader got up and sat in a chair today for the first time since the shooting. Black leaders, hoping to solve the shooting establishing a reward, asked that donations be sent to "Reward Fund" at the Lincoln National Bank and Trust Co. here.
Late tonight, a bomb threat was phoned into the hospital, police said. But dispatcher Donald Heck said no bomb was found by the squad sent to the hospital.