Coleman re-trial update: Testimony begins

Coleman re-trial: Opening arguments wrap up
On trial: Robert Coleman (Source: Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office)
On trial: Robert Coleman (Source: Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office)
On death row: Brandy Holmes
On death row: Brandy Holmes

CADDO PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Opening statements in the retrial for a Caddo Parish former death row inmate once convicted in the murders of a retired Blanchard minister and his wife wrapped up Monday morning, and the first witnesses for the prosecution have taken the stand.

Robert Coleman is being retried for the 2003 New Years Day murder of 70-year-old Julian Brandon and the attempted murder of his wife Alice, 68.

Prosecutors say Coleman and his girlfriend at the time, Brandy Holmes, robbed, shot and stabbed Brandon and his wife with kitchen knives while in their home.

Reverend Brandon was found dead, his wife barely alive, four days later by friends who had grown concerned when they did not show up for church.  Alice Brandon had survived the attack, but was permanently disabled and died five years later in 2008.

Brandy Holmes was found guilty of first-degree murder in February 2003, and was sentenced to death. Holmes conviction and sentence were later upheld by the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Coleman was convicted and sentenced to death in 2005, but his conviction was overturned in 2007 by the Louisiana Supreme Court, which agreed that his rights were violated by prosecutors when they dismissed a black juror from Coleman's murder trial on racial grounds.

[Click here to view the LA Supreme Court ruling on Coleman's appeal]

Jury selection in the re-trial wrapped up last week in Caddo District Court. 10 women - two black and eight white - were seated, along with two white men.

On Monday morning, Caddo Parish prosecutors once again laid out their case, pointing to DNA evidence they say shows Coleman was in the Brandon home. Brady O'Callaghan told the jury that Coleman was wearing shoes that match the bloody prints found in the Brandon home. DNA tests of the blood on those shoes found a match for Julian Brandon.

On the stand, two friends of the Brandons described how they went to the home after growing concerned that they had now shown up for Sunday school bible study, and found Julian Brandon dead.

Sgt. William Gaines with the Caddo Parish Sheriff's Office was one of the first on the scene, and testified to entering the home and finding Alice Brandon in a bedroom, barely alive. Jurors were shown gruesome photographs from the crime scene, showing the victims bloodied and swollen, having been there four days.

Jurors also heard from Terrence Barnes, who testified he met Robert Coleman at a New Years Eve party on the night before the robbery and murder. Barnes says Coleman had asked him where he could rob someone.

Jurors are also expected to hear testimony supporting the prosecution's claim that two inmates in Coleman's holding cell following his arrest told deputies that Coleman bragged that he and his girlfriend were "in a knockoff game," and that he was putting Brandy to the test to see if she had what it took to murder people.

Coleman's new defense team, headed up by David Price of the Baton Rouge Capital Conflict Office, will once again seek to prove that Coleman was never in the Brandon home, and that it was actually Brandy Holmes' brother that killed the couple.

Defense attorney Bruce Unangst told the jury on Monday, "Robert Coleman has never been in Julian Brandon's house.  Not on January 1st, 2003. Not since then. Not ever."

In his opening statements, Unangst said that Alice Brandon identified her attackers to the EMS responders on the day of the attack as "two white people" when they revived her, and that Coleman's DNA was never found at the house.

Unangst says it was Holmes' brother Sean George, who was 15 at the time, who joined Brandy Holmes in the armed robbery and brutal attack in the Brandon home.

If convicted, the Caddo Parish District Attorney's office says it will once again seek the death penalty for Coleman.

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