In the second successful prosecution in Maryland under a 1989 state law that makes it a crime to rape a spouse, a 28-year-old Columbia man was sentenced Thursday to serve six months in prison for the second-degree rape of his wife.
The sentencing is the second instance in which the county state's attorney's office used the law to obtain a rape conviction against a woman's husband.
As part of a plea agreement, Mickey R. Coleman pleaded guilty to the second-degree rape of his wife and was sentenced to five years in prison with all but six months suspended by Circuit Judge James B. Dudley.
Coleman faced a maximum penalty of 20 years in jail.
"The state was primarily concerned with getting a second-degree rape conviction," said assistant state's attorney Kate O'Donnell.
"The victim/witness has never really been out for blood as far as sentencing or punishment . . . basically we tried to accommodate her, yet still convict Mickey Coleman," she said.
O'Donnell also prosecuted the case that resulted in the first spousal rape conviction under the 1989 state law. Last month, Theron A. Feggans of Columbia was sentenced to three years in prison for the second-degree rape of his estranged wife.
"I think it's really great that the state's attorney's office in Howard County is on top of this law and not shying away from charging a husband with rape," said Dorothy Lennig, the managing attorney at the House of Ruth, a Baltimore shelter for battered women and their children.
"For so long people didn't want to prosecute husbands for the rape of their wives. The Howard County state's attorney's office should be given a lot of credit for actually pressing these kinds of cases."
Coleman's wife said he forced her to have sex with him on May 26 at his place of employment in Jessup.
She said that Coleman threatened to hit her with a weight scale and held her down on a weight bench before raping her.
Coleman's wife reported the rape to the county police and Coleman was arrested on May 27.
The couple was married in May 1986 but had lived together for only about a year. They had been living apart for 18 months before the rape, but never filed a formal separation agreement.
Prior to the passage of the 1989 spousal rape law, a person could not be prosecuted for raping a spouse.
Under the new law, prosecution is possible when one of the following exceptions apply to the case: if there is a written separation agreement between the two parties, if the parties have lived apart for at least six months prior to the rape, or if force is used to commit the rape.
"It's going to be a while before any of these cases are considered by anyone on an equal stature with any other type of rape case, but I think it's definitely a step in the right direction," O'Donnell said.
Lennig agreed, saying that since the law is just beginning to be applied, it remains to be seen how it will be interpreted by the courts.
"There have not been a lot of cases and the courts haven't sorted out what using force is," she said. "If someone holds a fist to your head, does that count? I don't know."