The agency's records reveal that counselors visited the infant's home and planned to remove him to a protective shelter.
By BRADY DENNIS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 14, 2003
TAMPA -- Fearing for the safety of newborn Devonte Coleman, state social workers in early December decided to place the baby in a protective shelter.
But before they got the chance, the infant was dead and his body placed in a freezer.
More than 100 pages of documents released Monday by the Florida Department of Children and Families reveal that the agency tried to keep the 10-week-old boy away from James Coleman, who police say killed the baby and his 19-year-old mother last month.
On Dec. 2, DCF investigators threatened to take the child from Devonte's mother, Jessica Hine, if they found her and the baby with Coleman, her 24-year-old live-in boyfriend.
But before they could intervene, police say, the Marine sergeant killed both mother and son.
Authorities said Coleman strangled Hine on Dec. 7, then lowered the thermostat in their Westshore Boulevard apartment to 50 degrees to try to slow her body's deterioration.
He went to work for a week at MacDill Air Force Base, leaving the baby boy alone with Hine's body, they said.
He told police he was reluctant to move the baby from the apartment, so on Dec. 13, he smothered the infant and placed the tiny body in the freezer.
The next day, Coleman put Hine's body in a brown leather suitcase, police said. He hoisted the suitcase into his white Mercedes and drove to Volusia County, where he dumped the body and the suitcase in a patch of woods near an Ormond Beach storage shed, authorities said.
It marked a tragic, gruesome end to a relationship that had grown increasingly violent in recent months, records show.
On Sept. 15, just weeks before Devonte was born, Coleman tried to strangle Hine and sat on her abdomen during an argument over candy, according to police reports.
Hine was treated at Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg. Coleman was arrested on an aggravated battery charge, went to jail and later posted $1,000 bail.
But Hine went back to Coleman despite the pending battery charge.
Devonte Coleman was born Oct. 1. A few weeks later, Hine told Coleman he was not Devonte's father, something blood tests later confirmed.
On Oct. 28, Hine called Tampa police and said Coleman wouldn't let her leave the apartment.
On Nov. 1, she got a temporary restraining order against Coleman. It was dropped when she didn't show up for a court hearing a week and a half later.
She called police again on Nov. 15, making similar allegations. No arrests were made.
DCF caseworkers took up the case the next week, according to state records, and tried almost daily to visit the child, usually with no luck.
They finally were able to see Hine and her son twice, once in a Jacksonville homeless shelter where she had fled, and again in the Tampa apartment on Dec. 2.
Both times, they remarked that the child seemed properly treated and well-fed, but they noted that allowing him any contact with Coleman posed a "high" risk.
During the Dec. 2 meeting, DCF workers told Hine that "if she was found with (Coleman), we would shelter the baby," according to a department e-mail.
Hine told the caseworkers that Coleman no longer was living at the apartment, although checks revealed his name was the only one on the lease.
On Dec. 10, a DCF worker went to the Westshore apartment to give Hine a day care referral. She saw a man wearing military fatigues enter the apartment.
She knocked repeatedly on the door, but there was "no answer, no noise heard in (the) apartment," the caseworker noted. Little did she know that Hine lay inside, already dead three days.
According to records, DCF investigators believed that seeing Coleman at the apartment gave them "enough (probable cause) to shelter" Devonte. They planned to send a counselor by the apartment on Dec. 26 to begin the process.
It was that day they learned that Hine's body had been found in Volusia County. A day later, they heard that Devonte's body also had been found.
Coleman remains in the Hillsborough County jail without bail. He faces charges of first-degree and second-degree murder.