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Murder defendant's lengthy testimony frustrates his attorneys

From the moment he called 911 to report that his girlfriend was lying on the floor inside his Forestville condominium, beaten and unresponsive, Joseph N. Coleman wanted to explain himself to Prince George's County homicide detectives.

That got him arrested and charged with first-degree murder and other offenses. On Monday, Coleman tried to explain his actions to a jury in Upper Marlboro, where he is on trial for murdering Donna M. Brown, who was 39.

Under cross-examination by Assistant State's Attorney Aaron Meyers, Coleman often provided long, rambling answers that did not address the question asked. He interrupted Meyers in mid-question. He talked over Meyers and Circuit Court Judge Larnzell Martin.

Twice, his own defense attorneys objected to statements Coleman made, and once asked that his words be stricken from the record.

Police and firefighters arrived at Coleman's condo in the 6300 block of Hil-Mar Drive shortly after 7:30 a.m. on Oct. 5, 2008. They found Donna M. Brown, 39, lying on the ground, suffering from trauma to the face and neck. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police took Coleman, now 45, to headquarters for an interview.

Detectives didn't need to coax Coleman to talk.

The interview, which was videotaped, lasted more than 10 hours. Coleman told police that the night before, he and Brown had fought over money. Coleman claimed that Brown physically attacked him, hitting him in the face. Coleman said he responded by hitting her in the face at least twice, knocking her to the ground, where he hit her one more time.

Brown was gasping for air, and Coleman, afraid she was dying, left, according to the chargng documents. Then, Coleman said, he left his condo and went to a friend's house and then to the nearby home of the woman who raised him as a foster child. He returned to his condo the next morning, where he saw Brown's body and called 911.

During his more than thre hours on the witness stand Monday, Coleman acknowledged he made incriminating statements to detectives, but said they tricked him with "leading questions."

"I didn't tell any lies. I got caught up in some words that wasn't true," Coleman explained. "That's why we're here, to review the evidence."

Coleman testified that he gave Brown $8,000 shortly after they met at the racetrack in Laurel. They became intimate. And that's how it went, by Coleman's account: He would give Brown large amounts of cash, and they would have sex. "She told me, 'I like money,' " Coleman testified.

When Meyers asked about this arrangement, Coleman became testy: "I object to you implying she's a prostitute, taking money for sex. I didn't look at her as a prostitute or a 'ho."

Coleman testified that he loved Brown -- whom he sometimes referred to by her full name, "Donna Brown" -- and treated her with respect.

"I had no intent to do any harm," Brown said. "I was attacked in my home." Coleman said Brown hit him with an ashtray, adding that he suffered scratches near an eye and on his ears, as well as a chipped tooth.

At the request of defense attorneys, Coleman underwent psychological exams twice to determine if he was competent to stand trial. The exams -- which Coleman opposed -- found he was competent.

In all, Coleman has spent more than 14 hours explaining his actions. In addition to the police interview of more than 10 hours and his three hours on the witness stand, he addressed the judge for an hour during a pretrial hearing.

Brown was the ex-wife of Warren Brown, a well-known defense attorney based in Baltimore.

Closing arguments are scheduled for Tuesday.

-- Ruben Castaneda

By Ruben Castaneda  |  December 8, 2009; 8:18 AM ET
Categories:  From the Courthouse , Pr. George's , Ruben Castaneda  
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