Murder suspect Demetrius Coleman has turned down a plea bargain that would have given him a chance for parole if he is convicted and sent to state prison. This morning Deputy District Attorney Carolyn Schaffer, the trial prosecutor, told Judge Christopher Wilson that Coleman was offered a deal to plead guilty to first-degree murder and a firearms charge, with the sentencing judge deciding what the term should be for the weapons violation.
“The defendant has rejected that offer,” Schaffer said, “knowing that he is facing life without possibility of parole if he is convicted as charged.”
As it stands Coleman is charged with murder with the special circumstance of firing a gun from a vehicle. If convicted, he would be sentenced to life without parole. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 5 and last one month.
Judge Wilson questioned Coleman, who appeared on videocamera from the jail, about his decision. Wilson reminded Coleman he has two prior “strikes” and is now charged with special-circumstance murder. He asked whether Coleman thoroughly discussed his options with his attorney, Andrea Sullivan.
“Yes, I did,” Coleman replied.
This morning Judge Timothy Canning was assigned as the trial judge. Schaffer immediately said she plans to have Canning disqualified from the case and will file a written motion today. Canning presided over the preliminary hearing for Coleman and his girlfriend Alma Ahumada-Mendoza, dismissing a charge that Ahumada Mendoza was an accessory after the murder. The judge also called the evidence against Coleman “not strong.”
Ahumada Mendoza, 23, has since been released from custody.
Coleman, 40, is accused of the August 2019 drive-by slaying of 26-year-old Johnny Mack Renfro, who was shot once when he got out of his car on a Rio Dell street. During the preliminary hearing, Schaffer said the suspected motive was that Coleman thought Renfro was one of three men who robbed him of marijuana.
After the killing Coleman dropped his green Honda off at a friend’s house in Alton, saying he’d been robbed and shot at and needed a place to leave the car. The friend had the car towed to her father’s house. He eventually contacted law enforcement, and the Honda was traced to Coleman’s estranged wife.
Coleman and Ahumada Mendoza were arrested in North Dakota five months after the shooting.
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In other court news today, a McKinleyville woman accused of driving her SUV through a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters pleaded not guilty this morning to all charges. Deputy Conflict Counsel Leslie Keig entered the pleas on behalf of 34-year-old Jessica Perkins, who was not in court but participated through Zoom. Perkins is charged with reckless driving, a misdemeanor, and the infractions of running a red light and failing to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk.
On June 11 Perkins drove her Honda Pilot through a group of BLM protesters who were crossing Central Avenue on a green light. The SUV narrowly missed pedestrians and horses. Some bystanders said the driver flipped them off after she passed through the group.
The event was caught on videotape.
This morning Commissioner Frances Greenleaf scheduled Perkins’s trial for Nov. 2, with a trial confirmation set for Oct. 26.
Perkins, posting on the Outpost’s Facebook page, said she would never have hit anyone and was sorry she scared people. Perkins said she had already been blocked at two lights as she was trying to get home with medicine for her sick daughter.
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