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Md. man charged with murder as he awaits retrial in quadruple shooting

After Victor Coley’s conviction on assault charges was thrown out, one of the victims of the shooting died, and prosecutors upgraded the charge

A view of the D.C. Superior Court building in downtown Washington. (Keith L. Alexander/The Washington Post)
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Victor L. Coley had been sentenced to 40 years in prison after a jury found him guilty of assault charges in the 2013 shooting of four people outside a Payless Shoe Store in Northeast Washington. But in 2018, the D.C. Court of Appeals threw out the conviction, ruling Coley deserved a new trial because one of the jurors may have felt coerced in voting guilty.

As Coley, 59, sat in the D.C. jail awaiting new proceedings in D.C. Superior Court, one of those injured in the shooting — 65-year-old Dennis Foster — died. And on Tuesday, federal prosecutors in the District charged Coley with first-degree murder while armed, after a medical examiner determined Foster’s injuries from the shooting caused his death.

Coley, formerly of Upper Marlboro, Md., is expected to appear before a D.C. Superior Court judge on Thursday on the new charges. He had previously been convicted of assault with intent to kill.

According to prosecutors, Coley opened fire on Nov. 6, 2013, in front of the shoe store in the 3900 block of Minnesota Avenue NE after seeing a man with whom he had been arguing. That man, along with three other people, including two innocent bystanders, were shot, prosecutors said.

None of the victims had died as a result of the shooting at the time of Coley’s first trial, although one of the victims was left paralyzed from the waist down, prosecutors said. It was unclear if Foster — who police said died on Dec. 3, 2021 — was that person.

The brazen daytime attack occurred as dozens of people were outside the shoe store and at a nearby bus stop. Prosecutors told jurors that Coley had tried to enlist some of the people he shot at to become part of a drug-dealing gang, but they refused.

After the shooting, authorities said Coley hid the gun in a house behind the shoe store. Coley was arrested minutes later, while coming out of the house, after a witness identified him to police, prosecutors said.

During the 2015 trial, Coley’s attorneys argued that their client was misidentified by witnesses and that he was not involved in the shooting. Calls to his attorney, Kristin McGough, were not returned Tuesday.

That trial was overseen by Judge Michael Ryan, the same judge before whom Coley is expected to appear on Thursday.

According to the D.C. Court of Appeals’ 2018 opinion, the jurors deliberated for about a day and a half — after sitting through a five-day trial — and alerted the judge that they had reached a verdict. When the jurors returned to the courtroom and announced they had found Coley guilty of multiple counts of assault with intent to kill, the judge began to poll each juror to ensure each one agreed with the verdict. During that process, one juror stood up and said “I can’t,” according to the opinion.

Ryan then sent the jurors back to continue deliberations, according to the appellate opinion. Coley’s attorney requested a mistrial, arguing that the sole juror holding out would now feel coerced into agreeing with the majority. Ryan disagreed.

In their ruling, the Court of Appeals judges determined that Ryan failed to instruct the jury again and specifically warn each of the jurors not to give up their convictions or beliefs for “the mere purpose of returning a verdict.”

Hours later, the jury issued a unanimous guilty verdict on the charges. Later, the Court of Appeals learned that the juror who had said “I can’t” also wrote in a note to Ryan, “I don’t feel that he did it.” The judge, though, had not seen the note, according to the appeals court opinion.