Jury delivers guilty verdicts

GREENFIELD — His shouts cut through the quiet, harsh and shocking. Reverberating off the stone walls of the courtroom and causing everyone there to stir.

As a judge read the jury’s verdict — guilty of all charges — Damian Coleman jumped from his seat in anger. At the conclusion of five days of testimony, 12 Hancock County residents found Coleman, 40, of Indianapolis, guilty of murdering 55-year-old McCordsville native Shannon Kitchens during a drug deal, a judge announced Monday evening.

“I’m done,” Coleman shouted over and over, ignoring the judge’s and his own family members’ attempts to calm him. The jury was quickly ushered from the room, looks of surprise and fear on some of their faces.

Throughout the five-day trial in Hancock Circuit Court, prosecutors worked to prove Coleman shot Kitchens during a drug deal orchestrated by Kitchens’ friend, Shawn Hammons of Pendleton. Hammons, who recently took a plea deal in the case, then dumped Ktichens’ body along a rural road in Hancock County.

A passerby called 911 on March 1 after spotting Kitchens’ body in the 3300 block of West County Road 500N. Kitchens’ family members pointed them to Hammons, who admitted to dumping Kitchens’ body but said it was Coleman who shot and killed his friend, according to testimony heard throughout the trial.

Jurors spent more than four hours deliberating before deciding Coleman was guilty of two counts of murder; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to commit robbery while armed; a Level 3 felony count of attempt to deal cocaine; and a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to deal cocaine.

Cries of relief and despair rang out simultaneously as Judge Richard Culver read the jury’s verdict aloud to a gallery filled with Coleman’s and Kitchens’ friends and family members.

For Kitchens’ relatives, the verdict meant some justice for the father of five whose family has been in limbo for months.

“We each needed this answer,” Jason Kitchens, Shannon Kitchens’ son, said after the verdict was announced. “This is just a bit of closure.”

Coleman’s attorney, Randy Sorrell of Fortville, had hoped reasonable doubt would free his client; he started his final remarks to jurors Monday morning by thanking them for being attentive and asking many questions throughout the course of the trial — remarking the panel needed to ask questions so often only because the state’s story surrounding Kitchens’ death had so many loose ends.

Sorrell argued that the evidence presented showed Hammons — not Coleman — was guilty of harming Kitchens.

Hammons recently took a plea deal on lesser charges in exchange for testifying against Coleman. He pleaded guilty to a Level 3 felony count of conspiracy to commit dealing cocaine; a Level 6 felony count of altering the scene of a death; and a Class A misdemeanor count of failure to report a dead body.

But prosecutors told jurors Coleman left a trail of evidence proving he was with Kitchens and Hammons on the day Kitchens was killed — including several phone calls the defendant made in the hours after the shooting.

Coleman called the non-emergency phone number for the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department’s dispatch center a few hours after Kitchens died, Prosecutor Brent Eaton told jurors. The caller, who police identified as Coleman, was seeking information about a shooting he said happened earlier that day — a shooting no one had reported, officials testified. The call came from Coleman’s cellphone, police testified.

Coleman told emergency dispatchers the exact location of the crime hours before his co-defendant had ever named him as a suspect, Eaton told the jury. If Coleman hadn’t been involved in Kitchens’ death, he would not have known those details, Eaton said.

A sentencing date for Coleman has not yet been set.

As some of Kitchens’ family members exited the courtroom, Thelma Adams, the defendant’s mother, stopped them, shook their hands and told them how sorry she was for their loss.

With tears in her eyes, she said she didn’t think her son was guilty but wanted to express her condolences.

“I know my son, and I truly believe he didn’t do that,” Adams said. “But they lost a brother, a father, a son.”

Here’s how each day’s testimony unfolded last week:

Friday, Jan. 27

Coleman told the truth when he denied involvement in the slaying, according to polygraph exam results read in open court Friday.

But it’s testimony the jury that weighed the case against Coleman will never hear. Prosecutors and Coleman’s defense attorney did not pen an agreement stating the results would be admitted, what questions would be asked and what examiner would be used; so the 12-member jury was removed from the courtroom.

Culver allowed Coleman to read the report into the record so it could be considered by an appeals court should Coleman be convicted.

Experts have long questioned the accuracy of polygraph tests. The test measures physiological reactions — including heart rate, blood pressure and breathing patterns — that can be affected when a person is nervous, causing inconclusive results even if they are being truthful, according to the American Psychological Association. Similarly, a person who feels calm while lying can pass a test, the association states.

After the state rested its case Friday afternoon, the defense worked to convince jurors Hammons had a motive to kill Kitchens.

Sorrell called Hammons to the witness stand for a second time, this time questioning Hammons about a promissory note he and Kitchens penned the day before Kitchens was shot.

The agreement stated that Hammons would borrow about $400 from Kitchens; he’d repay the money within a few days and give Kitchens an extra $100 for the trouble.

But Coleman’s behavior suggests he knew about the crime even before the body had been discovered, police said.

Two hours after police say they believe Kitchens was killed, Coleman called an Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department non-emergency dispatch number and asked whether a shooting had been reported, said Hancock County Sheriff’s Department Detective Sgt. Bridget Foy, the lead investigator in the case.

The jury listened to a recording of the call, in which a voice police say belongs to Coleman asked about reports of a shooting, saying a friend heard something had happened near 8101 Pendleton Pike, not far from the Check ’n Go where Hammons admitted to police he took Kitchens to cash his disability check before the drug deal.

After dumping Kitchens’ body, Hammons left his sport-utility vehicle in a friend’s driveway and caught a ride out of town, police said.

Carol Skaggs of Fortville, a former girlfriend of the man, testified Hammons was crying and seemed intoxicated around 6 p.m. that evening, when she gave him a ride to Anderson.

“He said somebody had got hurt,” Skaggs said. “He didn’t say where.”

Skaggs said she talked to police twice during the investigation but didn’t tell them the truth until the second time they talked. At first, she said when she got home, Hammons’ vehicle was in her driveway; later, she told police she had been home when Hammons arrived, pale and crying.

Hammons spent the evening of March 1 at the house of Toby Chandler. Chandler told the jury Hammons had blood on his hands and seemed “not in his right mind.”

Thursday, Jan. 26

A blood-covered sport-utility vehicle police found parked outside a home in Fortville last spring prompted a manhunt that spanned two counties.

The third day of the state’s trial against Coleman included testimony from detectives with the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, who told jurors of the search for the man Kitchens’ family told police was likely the last to see their loved one alive — Hammons.

Investigators said they believe Coleman shot Kitchens while they were sitting in Hammons’ SUV; Coleman was trying to steal $14,000 in disability pay that Kitchens had recently received, court records state.

Police identified Kitchens using an ID card found with his body; when they found his family, detectives received their first clues about who might be responsible for the McCordsville man’s death, officers testified.

Kitchens’ family members said Kitchens was last seen with a man named Shawn — later identified as Shawn Hammons, court documents state.

Officers called to the stand Jan. 26 told jurors their aim that night was to locate Hammons — who they knew was driving a black Ford Explorer — in hopes of learning what happened in the hours leading up to Kitchens’ death.

Area police searched for Coleman’s car and spotted one that matched its description parked outside a home in the 700 block of Alden Drive in Fortville; they immediately noticed blood smeared on the front passenger window — where Hammons testified Kitchens was seated when he died.

Officers from several area police departments, including members of the Hancock County SWAT team, surrounded the Fortville home, police told jurors.

They found three people inside, all friends of Hammons’ who told officers that they returned to the home after running errands and found the SUV parked outside. They later admitted Hammons came to Fortville seeking their help after dumping Kitchens’ body, and they drove Hammons to a home in Anderson, investigators testified.

When police found Hammons in Anderson, he immediately turned himself in, police testified. During an interview that lasted early into the morning on March 2, Hammons admitted he had dumped Kitchens body, but he told investigators it was Coleman who shot Kitchens.

Wednesday, Jan. 25

The bullet that killed Kitchens passed through his chest, entering near his heart and exiting through his rib cage, leaving him with only minutes to live.

A pathologist with the Marion County Coroner’s office told jurors how Kitchens died as testimony continued Jan. 25 during the state’s trial against Coleman.

As the trial entered its second day, prosecutors called witnesses who offered insight on the investigation that took place after Kitchens’ body was found.

Police officers and other experts told jurors of the wallet, cellphone and other evidence they found near Kitchens’ body but not the bullet that killed Kitchens — a key piece of evidence Coleman’s defense attorney had warned jurors investigators weren’t able to find.

On the morning of Jan. 25, jurors heard from a woman who told investigators she passed a black sport-utility vehicle stopped along west County Road 500N, in the area where Kitchens’ body was found, on March 1.

Carrie Griffin told jurors she noticed two white men who seemed to be acting strangely while standing along the side of the road. Coleman is black.

One of the men, investigators say, was Hammons. On Jan. 24, he testified he was with Kitchens when he died. But it was Coleman who shot and killed him, Hammons said.

Griffin testified she made eye contact with one of the men, whom police later identified as Hammons, as she passed him. She said she nearly stopped to help, but the look Hammons gave her made her uneasy. She couldn’t recall much about the second man except that he appeared older, she said.

Two other drivers told jurors they called 911 after driving by and spotting Kitchens’ body. Then, the team of Hancock County sheriff’s deputies who investigated Kitchens’ death, along with a forensic pathologist, took the stand one by one to tell jurors about what they discovered at the scene.

Much of what they said supported what Randy Sorrell, Coleman’s defence attorney, said during his opening statement Tuesday — that investigators can’t tie the murder to Coleman because they never found the bullet or gun that killed Kitchens.

Tuesday, Jan. 24

Hammons took the stand as the state’s key witness. Over nearly four hours of testimony, he told the jury about the day he said Coleman robbed and murdered Kitchens, while Coleman’s defense attorneys revealed they would work to prove Coleman was framed.

The full story from this day in court was published in the Jan. 26 edition of The Times-Post. The story also was published at www.pendletontimespost.com.

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Caitlin VanOverberghe is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3237 or cvanoverberghe@greenfieldreporter.com.