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    Jury: Lust for crack led man to murder

    [Times photo: Jamie Francis]
    Reginald Coleman hugs cousin Stephanie Tinson as his aunt Rita Bryant reaches to comfort him after a jury convicts him of first degree murder and second degree attempted murder in Largo on Friday.

    By WILLIAM R. LEVESQUE

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published June 9, 2001


    LARGO -- Reginald Bernard Coleman looked to 87-year-old Annie Mae Stockton as a grandmother. In turn, the woman treated Coleman, who grew up in a house behind her own, like trusted kin.

    Prosecutors say Stockton was there for Coleman and took him in when he needed a friend. When his family moved to Atlanta, Stockton kept in touch.

    One night in 1997, Stockton unlocked her door and let in her friend. Coleman tied her up, beat her to death and stole her savings to feed his insatiable crack addiction.

    "All Coleman wanted was money and crack," said prosecutor Bill Loughery. On Friday, a jury deliberated three hours before finding Coleman, 32, guilty of first-degree murder for the June 14, 1997, beating death of Stockton in her St. Petersburg home. Coleman, flanked by his attorneys, didn't react to the verdict.

    On Tuesday, jurors will return for the penalty phase of the trial. They will recommend to Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge Phil Federico whether Coleman should be executed or spend life in prison for the killing.

    The judge, by law, must give the jury's recommendation great weight, though the final sentence is up to Federico.

    Jurors also convicted Coleman of attempted second-degree murder for attacking and nearly killing Stockton's elderly nephew.

    After the verdict, Coleman hugged his mother, Letha Gray, and other relatives. He told his mother, "I love you," as bailiffs led him to jail.

    "Maybe he'll be okay," she told a friend.

    In June 1997, Coleman returned to St. Petersburg from Atlanta, where he was living, to surrender to police. He was wanted for violating probation from a burglary conviction.

    Prosecutors say Coleman, knowing he faced prison, wanted one last crack binge.

    But he didn't have cash. Coleman sold a gold necklace for one rock of crack cocaine. Witnesses said Coleman told them he would be back with ample money for more crack.

    He visited Stockton, a widow who lived alone at 1225 13th Ave. S, her home of 35 years.

    Prosecutors say Coleman beat her and ransacked the house. He eventually found nearly $3,000 in cash. Stockton died of a fractured skull.

    When Stockton's 70-year-old nephew, Willie Woodard, stopped by with groceries, Coleman struck him in the head from behind.

    Woodard remembers nothing of the attack and could not identify who hit him.

    The slaying went unsolved for more than two years, though Coleman was quickly a suspect. Not long after the killing, Coleman surrendered to police on the unrelated probation violation and was eventually sentenced to 15 years in prison.

    While in prison, prosecutors say, Coleman bragged to another inmate that he had gotten away with Stockton's killing. His sister also testified that Coleman told her he was present when Stockton was killed, though he said he didn't murder her.

    Prosecutors say Coleman knew that Stockton kept cash in the home.

    And within minutes of the killing, his friends testified, Coleman showed up with his pockets stuffed with the nearly $3,000 that fueled a three-day crack binge.

    Defense attorney Michael Schwartzberg said Coleman got the $3,000 that fueled a three-day crack binge by robbing a male prostitution client.

    Schwartzberg said someone else killed Stockton. He pointed to unidentified prints at the scene.

    Coleman, though denying involvement, said he visited Stockton within minutes of the attack.

    Gray, Coleman's mother and Stockton's goddaughter, said she isn't worried about her son.

    "He's going to be fine," she said. "I know Reginald didn't do this."

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