Man to serve life for role in killing

20-year-old convicted of strangling burning body of Woodlawn girl, 15

October 08, 2005|By JENNIFER MCMENAMIN | JENNIFER MCMENAMIN,SUN REPORTER

Ogden E. Coleman Jr. was working toward his GED. He had signed up for classes at a Pennsylvania culinary school, hoping to get away and become a pastry chef. And he brought home to his parents a girlfriend - his first - who was attending college and whose parents were both working professionals.

After years of minor run-ins with the law, the 20-year-old Pikesville man seemed to finally be getting his life on track, his relatives testified yesterday.

But none of that could offset what a Baltimore County jury convicted Coleman of doing last year - choking to death a 15-year-old Woodlawn girl and setting her body on fire to keep her from testifying against a friend in a statutory rape case.

"No matter what I give you, it's not enough to make up for what you did," Baltimore County Circuit Judge Patrick Cavanaugh said yesterday at Coleman's sentencing hearing. Calling the crime "a horrible, barbaric act," the judge sentenced Coleman, now 21, to life in prison without the possibility of parole on the first-degree murder conviction.

The judge tacked on a consecutive life prison term - in case, he said, "somewhere down the road some liberals down in Annapolis" water down the meaning of life without parole. The life sentence was for Coleman's conviction on conspiracy to commit murder.

The sentence closed an emotional hearing at which Coleman and his relatives testified that he had been trying to find a future away from the street life but struggled to extricate himself from the influence of Jason T. Richards.

Richards, 25, was convicted of plotting and ordering the murders of Quartrina K. Johnson and her 13-year-old foster sister to keep the girls from testifying about his relationship with the 13-year-old. The younger girl escaped after Coleman and others involved in the plot struggled to kill Quartrina. Richards is to be sentenced this month.

Coleman's mother, Judy Melvin-Coleman, said she and her husband knew Richards was trouble and barred him from visiting their home. She showed the judge how Coleman would cradle his head whenever Richards called.

"I'd say, `Ogden, walk away. You can walk away,'" the mother testified. But her son - the youngest of her four boys and a man known to his friends as "G-Wizz" - always responded that she didn't understand.

It was last year - three or four months before Coleman's arrest in July 2004 - that he told his mother of his plans to attend culinary school.

"Some people lose their children to drugs or runaways," the mother testified. "I lost my son to peer pressure. But he was on the way back."

Prosecutor Lisa Dever did not dispute the family's assertions that Coleman was not a leader.

"Ogden was a follower and wanted so badly to be a part of the group that Jason Richards ran," she said. Asking the judge to sentence Coleman to life without parole, Dever said, "No other sentence is appropriate. When you kill a 15-year-old girl because your friend tells you to do it, you are a danger to society."

While prosecutors believe Richards to be the mastermind behind Quartrina's July 19, 2004, murder, they presented evidence at trial that Coleman was the one who choked her, doused her body with gasoline and set her on fire.

Coleman told Quartrina's mother, Quarnoda Sellers, that he was sorry about what happened to her daughter but maintained that he did not kill the girl. Coleman also said during the hearing that he believed both Quartrina's foster sister and his own girlfriend would have been killed that night had it not been for him.

"You're probably looking at me like I'm guilty because the state says I'm guilty," he told Sellers. "But I know in my heart ... that everyone would be gone if it wasn't for me."

Two other men have been sentenced for their roles in the girl's death.

Outside the courtroom yesterday, Sellers, 31, expressed satisfaction at Coleman's sentence.

"Justice is served," she said.

jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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