GREENFIELD — A defendant’s angry outburst at the jury that convicted him of murder last week could result in the selection of a new panel to weigh his sentence.
Hancock Circuit Court Judge Richard Culver ruled the jurors who found Damian Coleman, 40, of Indianapolis, guilty last week couldn’t impartially weigh evidence of the defendant’s criminal history after Coleman — who is black — shouted at them from the defendant’s table, calling them and local investigators racist and accusing them of aligning with the Ku Klux Klan.
Jurors were ushered from the courtroom amid Coleman’s shouts after the verdict, but they hadn’t quite completed their civic duty: in addition to the two counts of murder and a series of other felonies Coleman faced, prosecutors had accused him of being a habitual offender, or having a criminal record that warrants a heftier penalty for having shot and killed 55-year-old McCordsville resident Shannon Kitchens while trying to rob the man during a drug deal last year.
Mention of the habitual offender charge was purposefully omitted from evidence last week so that jurors would not be swayed by Coleman’s past offenses, Culver said in court last week. Traditionally, the same panel of jurors, after finding a defendant guilty, hears evidence about past criminal cases to determine if the sentence should be enhanced because of past run-ins with the law, officials said.
Culver declared a mistrial on the habitual offender charge Coleman faces, leaving prosecutors and Coleman’s defense team to take up the matter at a later date.
Now, taxpayers might foot the bill for a new jury panel to help determine Coleman’s sentence. A second trial date has been set for Feb. 28, records show.
Prosecutor Brent Eaton said he will be do his best to work with Coleman’s defense attorney, Randy Sorrell of Fortville, to reach a plea agreement on the habitual offender charge before that date.
But if an agreement can’t be reached, a new jury pool will be called to the courthouse Feb. 28, causing other cases to be delayed and racking up fees to pay more jurors in addition to the expert witnesses that would be called to testify.
Potential jurors receive $15 for every day spent at jury selection and those selected to hear a case are paid $40 for every day spent in court.
Eaton said his office would likely call experts with the Indiana State Police who will detail Coleman’s criminal record for the jury.
Coleman’s criminal record includes several felony and misdemeanor cases in Marion County, including one from 2005 when he pleaded guilty to dealing cocaine as a Class B felony.
Last week, Coleman was guilty of two counts of murder; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to commit robbery while armed; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal cocaine; and a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to deal cocaine.
Prosecutors worked throughout the trial to prove Coleman shot Kitchens during a drug deal orchestrated by Kitchens’ friend, Shawn Hammons; Hammons, who recently took a plea deal in the case, then dumped Kitchens’ body along a rural road in Hancock County, officials said.
A passerby called 911 March 1 after spotting Kitchens’ body in the 3300 block of West County Road 500N. Kitchens’ family members pointed them to Hammons, who admitted to dumping Kitchens’ body but said it was Coleman who shot and killed his friend, according to testimony heard throughout the trial.
Coleman’s attorney did not return a call for comment.