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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Tania Coleman Murder Case

     Firefighters in Erie, Pennsylvania, on May 24, 2011, while on a call on east Eighth Street, detected the odor of death coming from a discarded suitcase. When they opened the suitcase, the firefighters found the badly decomposed remains of 14-month-old Alayja Coleman.

     The next day, at the Erie Police Department, detectives questioned the child's mother, 20-year-old Tania Coleman. The pregnant mother of two lived in a house near the discovery of the suitcase. The dead girl's father, Rahsean Murphy, had been in prison most of Alaja's life. Murphy had last seen his daughter in late March 2011. Xavier Hollamon, Tania Coleman's 20-year-old boyfriend, was the father of her other two children as well as the baby to come.


     During the low-key, videotaped interrogation that lasted 45 minutes, Tania said that two months earlier she had discovered Alayja dead in her playpen. Panicked, she called Hollamon who rushed to the house. A high school dropout, Hollamon had just completed his Army basic training, and feared this situation would land him in military prison.

     Rather than report Alayja's death to the authorities, Coleman and her boyfriend put her body into the suitcase and hid it in the house. Before long, the odor became too much. On April 25, (this was later determined through investigation), Tania and Xavier, at the cost of $73, purchased a fancy plastic trash bin from Walmart. They placed the suitcase containing Alayja's body into the trash container and set it outside until they figured out how to permanently dispose of the body. (Someone, in stealing the trash bin, removed the suitcase.)

     Forensic pathologist Dr. Eric Vey performed the autopsy, and determined the cause of Alayja's death to be starvation. (Her body had been consuming her muscles and organs.) The Erie County Coroner ruled her manner of death as homicide. Due to the condition of the corpse, Dr. Vey could not pinpoint the victim's time of death.

     Dr. Vey's review of Alayja's pediatric records revealed that when she was 11 months old she weighed less than she had at the age of 4 months. When examined by a pediatrician 6 months after her birth, the doctor declared Alayja's weight in the "danger zone," and recommended that Tania feed her a lot of fruits and vegetables. The little girl missed her 9th and 12th month check-ups.

     Erie County District Attorney Jack Daneri charged Xavier Hollamon with abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence, a pair of misdemeanors that together carried a maximum sentence of 4 years in prison. He charged Tania Coleman with these crimes plus first degree-murder. In Pennsylvania, first degree-murder carried a mandatory sentence of life in prison without the chance of parole. To make his case, the district attorney would have to prove the defendant deliberately starved her daughter to death.

     In early March 2012, Xavier Hollamon pleaded guilty to the abuse of corpse and tampering with evidence misdemeanors in return for 2 years probation and 250 hours of community service. He had been incarcerated in the Erie County Jail for almost a year. Hollamon, as part of the plea bargain, agreed to testify against his former girlfriend, the mother of his two children and the unborn child. (I presume the Army issued Hollamon a dishonorable discharge.)

     Tania Coleman's first-degree murder trial got underway in mid-March 2012 before Judge Shad Connelly in the Erie County Court House. District Attorney Jack Daneri, on the theory that the defendant had killed her daughter because she had not been fathered by her boyfriend, and didn't fit into the family, put on his circumstantial case of intentional murder.

     Jamie Mead, Coleman's court-appointed attorney, presented the defendant as an overwhelmed single parent who had neglected a child who died despite efforts to feed her. Attorney Mead argued that if Coleman had intentionally murdered Alayja, she would have come up with a better plan to dispose of her body. The defendant did not take the stand on her own behalf. In the defense attorney's closing statement to the jury, Mead accused the prosecution of manufacturing a motive to support their theory of an intentional murder.

     On March 22, 2012, the Erie County jury found Tania Coleman guilty of first-degree murder. Attorney Mead immediately filed motions to either replace the first-degree murder conviction with a lesser homicide, or for a new trial. The defense attorney argued that the jury, in finding her client guilty of intentional murder, had relied more on emotion than evidence, citing witnesses who had testified that Tania had expressed concern about Alayja's refusal to eat.

     Judge Shad Connelly, on May 17, 2012, sentenced Tania Coleman to life in prison without chance of parole.

     On October 7, 2013, a state appeals court upheld Coleman's conviction. The appellate affirmation meant that Tania Coleman would spend the rest of her life in prison. 

6 comments:

  1. She deserves this and so Much more the disgusting excuse of a mothrt

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  2. She knew exactly what she was doing. baby was not eating, then died in her care. TAKE YOUR KID TO THE FUCKING DOCTOR!!!!

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    1. You are absolutely right! She told some friends that she was concerned with her child not eating and then she misses the next two pediatrician appointments!? Honestly, I guess these friends are just lying for her. Enablers til the end.
      All of us feel overwhelmed with mother and fatherhood at times. How dare her lawyer pull that excuse. This poor baby was starving to death!! I know if I was exhausted and my baby cried because she was hungry how quickly it got very loud. You are tired, you have black circles under your eyes, but you get up get that food and maybe grab a cup of coffee or say a prayer to get through it. You look at the child and have so much love in your heart that you know that you would do this and more, if you had too.
      How long did this baby cry? It must have been over and over and over again. This child's life consisted of the pain and suffering that starvation brings until she had no more strength to cry for her life.

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  3. I was most shocked when I read the doctors noted the baby's weight in the danger zone. Hello red flag! Why wasn't ocy called?! It was clear the baby weight was decreasing but those doctors did nothing about it. As a healthcare worker it is mandatory to report incident like this!

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    1. Unfortunately, most Erie doctors don't care that much to take proper initiative. I have had several poor experiences with doctors here.

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  4. Guest to crime blogFebruary 8, 2017 at 7:56 PM

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    ReplyDelete