Martha C. Coleman, who was accompanying National Urban league president Vernon E. Jordan Jr. when he was shot, emerged from seclusion today to defend her reputation and express fear for her own safety.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since Jordan was shot in the early morning hours of May 29, Coleman said she had met Jordan for the first time the previous evening, and that they spent only about 25 minutes alone together.
"In about 25 minutes, not a lot can happen," she said.
Coleman, a member of the local Urban League board, had been introduced to Jordan at a reception after he had addressed a dinner meeting of the Fort Wayne chapter.
Jordan asked her if there was a bar in the hotel, she said, and they agreed to meet there after the reception. They drank in the bar until it closed about 1 a.m., she said.
Because Jordan said he was tired of bars and restaurants, she agreed to take Jordan to her house for coffee, she said.
She said she made a drink for Jordan, which he refused, and that she made a pot of coffe. Soon after, she said, she drove him to his hotel.
She added that she left the lights and the stereo turned on when they left, thinking she would return shortly.
During the drive back to the Marriott Inn in her car, the white occupants of another car shouted something, she said, which she did not hear.
Upon arriving at the Marriott, she drove to the lobby entrance but Jordan asked her to drive closer to his first-floor room, which she did. She said she did not notice anything unusual except a large number of International Scout vehicles in the lot.
She said she was sitting in the car as Jordan walked around the back, waiting to see that he got to his room. She heard what sounded "like someone breaking my window." She looked in the rearview mirror, did not see Jordan and then heard him cry out, "Call the police, I've been shot."
She said she was in shock when she got to the hotel lobby but added she was thinking clearly enough to call an attorney.
She called the attorney simply because she has dealt with attorneys often and once was married to one, she said, and "because I'm business and legally oriented."
When she got to the lobby, she said, a hotel desk clerk told her the hotel had received several "strange" messages for Jordan the evening before the 2:05 a.m. shooting.
Among those strange messages, Colema said, was one reading, "For your next chicken dinner, call [a local number]." The clerk said an unindentified woman left the same message three times before the shooting, Coleman said.
Speaking clearly and deliberately, Coleman also said she has received "ugly mail" at her home, including one message that "it was unfortunate they didn't shoot me."
Coleman, 36, appeared in a hastily called press conference in the office of her chief attorney, Charles F. Leonard.Since the shooting, she has been questioned by both the FBI and Fort Wayne police and has passed a lie detector test she volunteered to take. The FBI has requested that Coleman undergo hypnosis to stimulate her memory, and Leonard said she probably will agree to it.
An employe of the International Harvester Co., she is divorced from her fourth husband, to whose children she remains close. She said she wanted the press conference to be the "first step" in returning to a normal life.
She acknowledged, however, that the attention given her will make a normal life "difficult."
Coleman said she believes that the shooting of Jordan, who remained in serious condition today after undergoing a second operation for an infection on Sunday night, was racially motivated.
The theory that the shooting was domestic in nature, possibly involving a jealous boyfriend, might have been used to avoid playing up any racial reason for the shooting. "It's kind of kept the lid on a racist problem," she said.
Coleman criticized the news media for paying too much attention to her and for prying into her personal life. She said she had been harassed by the news media and feared for her safety because her address was made public.
"I'm a private person," she said. "I like to keep my life to myself . . . I did nothing wrong. Unfortunately, I was in the wrong place at the wrong time."