Hearing held in '72 death of 5-year-old

Man accusing his mother in sibling's death is missing

April 27, 2005|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Nine months after an e-mail from a Baltimore man prompted police to re-examine the 1972 death of his 5-year-old brother -- leading to murder charges against their mother -- prosecutors say they can't find the man.

Baltimore County prosecutors said yesterday that they haven't heard from Richard Allen Coffman since late last year.

And although prosecutors say the man's testimony is not crucial to the murder case against his 58-year-old mother, lawyers for Diane B. Coffman argued during a court hearing yesterday that the man should be ordered to undergo a psychological examination before the woman's trial, scheduled for July.

"He's an integral witness in this matter," defense attorney Domenic R. Iamele said in court, afterward adding that it is because of Richard Coffman's e-mail that the case exists.

Assistant State's Attorney Susan Hazlett said after the hearing that she doesn't believe Richard Coffman's presence is significant to the murder case.

"He doesn't have recollections of what happened" before his brother died, Hazlett said, adding that a medical examiner's review of the case last year "speaks for itself."

Richard Coffman was 3 years old when his brother, Edward Randolph Coffman, died in the family's Woodlawn-area home. Last summer, the 35-year-old Baltimore man sent an e-mail to Baltimore County police saying he believed his mother was responsible for his brother's death.

Their mother, who lives in Deland, Fla., was arrested in November and charged with murder. She is also charged with abusing both of the boys.

In 1972, Diane Coffman told investigators that Edward fell in the bathtub in their home while arguing over toys with Richard, and that she discovered the older boy dead in his bed the next morning, charging documents show.

Blunt-force injury

A medical examiner at the time determined that Edward died of a blunt-force injury to his head but ruled the manner of death "undetermined," according to police and charging documents.

The July 2004 e-mail from Richard Coffman prompted police to re-examine the original autopsy and police reports. After reviewing the reports, Dr. David R. Fowler, Maryland's chief medical examiner, changed the manner of Edward's death to homicide in October, according to charging documents.

Free on bond

Diane Coffman, who is free on a $25,000 bond, has pleaded not guilty to the charges. She did not speak during the hearing, and through her lawyer declined to comment afterward.

Her husband, Darryl Coffman, called the allegations of murder and abuse unfair yesterday. "This is the closest thing to impossible I've ever witnessed in my 58 years on this Earth, ... and I've seen a lot of things," said Darryl Coffman who called his son Edward's death a "tragic accident."

He said he and his wife of more than 40 years had four children, including a daughter and another son, who died in an accident as an adult.

During the hearing yesterday, Iamele, the defense attorney, said Richard Coffman may be suffering from dementia.

`This is unfair'

"It's a shame," Darryl Coffman said. "Though we love our son, this a sad time. ... This is unfair to such a good woman."

In addition to a psychological examination of Richard Coffman, the defense lawyer also sought to examine the hard drive of the computer that the man used to send the e-mail to police. But Baltimore County Circuit Judge John G. Turnbull II denied the requests, saying they were moot because prosecutors cannot find the man.

May be homeless

Prosecutors said detectives have been unable to locate Richard Coffman, who they said had lived in the Bolton Hill area of Baltimore but now may be homeless. Hazlett, the assistant state's attorney, told Turnbull she last spoke with Richard Coffman before Christmas and that her phone messages for him have not been returned.

She said that if he is not found before trial, the child abuse charge against Diane Coffman that names Richard Coffman as the victim would likely be dropped.

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