GREENFIELD – Wendy Brown sat in the courtroom, shoulder to shoulder with the relatives of the man she never met in life but felt she has come to know well since he died.
She wanted to make sure she got it right, she said; to make sure the family of 55-year-old Shannon Kitchens found some peace, some justice.
Brown was one of 12 Hancock County jurors who found Damian Coleman, 40, Indianapolis — the man investigators say shot and killed Kitchens during a drug deal last year — guilty of murder in January.
Monday, she returned to the same courtroom where she’d sat through five days of testimony, and she listened as a judge ordered Coleman to serve 83 years in prison for murder.
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Kitchens’ daughter, Jennifer Burdine, took the stand during the hearing to ask the judge to order that Coleman serve the maximum possible sentence — prosecutors asked for 100 years — saying the family has felt “anger, hatred and heartache” since Kitchens was killed. She rattled off a list of events that her father will miss because of Coleman, including Father’s Days, his grandchildren’s sporting events and his son’s graduation from college, saying that those were memories that family should have had with Kitchens.
After Brown and her fellow jurors reached their verdict earlier this year, Brown decided she wanted to see Coleman’s case through to the end. Though months have passed since the verdict was announced, the case was has never been far from Brown’s mind, she said.
And as the judge read the sentence aloud in court, Brown nodded along with the decision, finally satisfied.
Judge Richard Culver ordered Coleman spend 63 years in prison after being found guilty of murder and robbery, and his lengthy criminal history required his sentence be enhanced by another 20 years.
The 40-year-old defendant won’t be eligible for parole until 2079, officials said; he’ll likely die in prison.
Meanwhile, Coleman maintains he is innocent.
During Monday’s sentencing hearing, he shouted at the judge that he wasn’t responsible for Kitchens’ death and repeatedly accused prosecutors and other local officials of racism, saying his was wrongly charged and convicted because he is black.
Halfway through the hearing – before his sentence was announced — he asked to be removed from the courtroom.
“I don’t trust nobody in this county,” Coleman shouted at the judge. “You’ve been denying my rights since day one.”
Investigators say Coleman shot Kitchens during a drug deal orchestrated by Kitchens’ friend, Shawn Hammons. Hammons then dumped Kitchens’ body along a rural road in Hancock County; he’s serving 39 years for his part in Kitchens’ death.
A passerby called 911 on March 1, 2016, after spotting Kitchens’ body in the 3300 block of West County Road 500N. Kitchens’ family members pointed investigators 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.
Jurors spent more than four hours deliberating in January before deciding 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.
In mid March, a second jury decided Coleman was a habitual offender, meaning his later sentence would be stricter because of his criminal history, which involves felony convictions for burglary and drug dealing, officials said.
Coleman originally was represented by Randy Sorrell of Fortville; but Joel Wieneke from Brooklyn, Indiana, a member of the state’s public defender board, was assigned to the case late last month after Coleman accused Sorrell of misrepresenting him.
During Monday’s hearing, Wieneke asked the judge not to hold Coleman’s attitude against him; because Coleman believes he is innocent, he is not remorseful for what happened to Kitchens. He asked the judge to show his client leniency.
After Coleman’s sentence was announced, Burdine and her relatives hugged each other and the police and prosecutors who saw the investigation through the end.
“I’m thankful the family seems to have gotten some closure from what happened here today,” Prosecutor Brent Eaton said.