COLEMAN'S ASSAULT VICTIM: `I AM ANGRY'
Author: PAUL DELLINGER
A woman who was assaulted by death-row inmate Roger Keith Coleman in 1977 told an assemblage of reporters Thursday that the press and TV news outlets held some blame for what she is still going through from that experience.
"It's getting to where I can't deal with it," Brenda Ratliff said.
"I have been a victim of Roger Keith Coleman for 15 years," she said. "And I am angry now. I'm angry at the media. . . . I think maybe I've been made a victim more by the media than I have - no, not more than I have by Roger Keith Coleman," she corrected.
She told how Coleman had entered her home at gunpoint April 7, 1977, forced her to bind her 6-year-old daughter to a chair, marched her to an upstairs bedroom and ripped at her clothing.
Coleman eventually was convicted of attacking Ratliff. He was sentenced to three years in prison and served about 18 months.
Ratliff and her daughter were among four women at a news conference called by lawyers Tom Scott and Mickey McGlothlin to counter publicity by national newspapers, news magazines and broadcast organizations suggesting that Coleman is innocent of the murder for which he is to be electrocuted Wednesday.
Scott and McGlothlin had to bow out because they were on their way to Washington, D.C., to take part in a broadcast on CNN's "Larry King Live" about the case.
Ratliff, an elementary school teacher, said Coleman forced himself on top of her during the attack.
"I begged him, and I pleaded with him," she said. "He kept saying, `Don't make me mad,' . . . and my daughter downstairs, 6 years old, listening to everything."
Ratliff said she broke from the room when she realized the intruder had put down his gun. She called for her daughter to run, forgetting momentarily that she was bound.
"And she said, `I can't, Mommy. I can't move.' You think of your child not being able to move and run when there's a man with a gun after you."
She grabbed her daughter and reached the porch before Coleman caught up with them. By then, neighbors had been alerted by Ratliff's cries. She said Coleman tried to drag her back into the house but finally fled.
While awaiting trial on the rape attempt, Coleman was free on bond. Both Ratliff and her daughter, Megan Rife, recalled being followed by him.
"I remember everything," said Rife, now 21. "And I remember seeing him on the street, and he would harass us and we would have to run from him."
Buchanan County librarian Pat Hatfield and employee Jean Gilbert said that on Jan. 12, 1981, about two months before the murder that landed Coleman on death row, a man they identified as Coleman walked into the library shortly before closing time and exposed himself.
"This incident was not just an indecent exposure. Roger Keith Coleman exhibited to us a hostile behavior like he hated us, like he wanted to do bodily harm to us," Hatfield said.
They have no doubt about his guilt in the rape and murder, "because we have seen Roger Keith Coleman in action, and, thank God, we are alive to tell about it. We are not mistaken about his identity," she said.
"We feel very strongly that we have to speak out, because we have been victims of him," Hatfield said. "So, when I'm told nationally that we have railroaded this innocent man, it does make you angry."
"I was told by the Japanese press, `Your whole nation wants this man to go free,' " said Mike McCoy, brother-in-law of the murder victim. "Free, so he can act again?"
McCoy said the national news media were not around to stand up for Wanda Faye McCoy when she was being raped and murdered.
"Folks, I just want you to know that being a victim of something like this is something that you never want to go through," he said. "Roger Keith Coleman has made victims of our entire family."