Fourth Judicial District Court Judge Larry Jefferson acquitted a Mesquite, Texas man accused of second-degree murder last week, claiming the video surveillance footage was insufficient to identify the man as the shooter.

Robert Kim Coleman, of Mesquite, Texas, and his nephew, Devontae Coleman, of Monroe, were charged with second-degree murder for allegedly killing Daryl Stevenson outside a funeral home in southern Monroe on Sept. 20, 2019.

A bench trial before Jefferson was held in Robert Coleman’s case from Nov. 29, 2021 to Dec. 7, 2021. Devontae Coleman still awaits trial.

During a court hearing last week, Jefferson found Robert Coleman not guilty and ordered the suspect be released from prison.

“Due to the lack of proof beyond a doubt establishing identity of the shooter in this case, a verdict of not guilty is rendered,” stated Jefferson’s Jan. 6 written reasons for verdict.

Arrest warrants indicated Devontae Coleman helped Robert Coleman kill Stevenson in retaliation for the death of Christopher Coleman. Christopher Coleman was Robert Coleman’s brother and Devonate Coleman’s uncle.

Christopher Coleman was shot and killed Sept. 14, 2019 on South 6th Street. Devontae Coleman and Robert Coleman retaliated nearly a week later when Stevenson was driving near Smith Funeral Home on South 5th Street where a wake or viewing was being held for Christopher Coleman, according to court documents.

Police say Robert Coleman shot Stevenson first and Devontae Coleman walked over to the injured Stevenson and fired the killing shot.

Throughout the case, Robert Coleman’s attorneys sought to prevent witness testimony identifying Robert Coleman as the suspect in the surveillance video.

Monroe Police Det. Doug Lambert was the lead investigator in the Stevenson homicide. In his police report, Lambert wrote, “Robert Coleman goes to a vehicle, gets a handgun and then returns to the rear driver’s side of the victim’s car. Robert Coleman opens fire on the victim, shooting him several times.”

As he testified in court in October 2019, Lambert based his police report on viewing video surveillance footage from two different locations near the crime scene.

Attorneys claimed Lambert’s identification of Robert Coleman was “suggestive and unreliable.”

“Detective Lambert was not at the scene at the time of the shooting, nor did anyone from the scene give him a description of any suspects, let alone Robert Coleman,” stated Robert Coleman’s Feb. 11, 2021 motion. “Detective Lambert was able to look at video footage from Smith’s Funeral Home and Attorney Harvey Lexing’s office, but neither angle shows a clear view of the individual doing the shooting.”

In April 2021, the Fourth Judicial District Attorney Steve Tew filed an appeal with the Second Circuit Court of Appeal in Shreveport, challenging Jefferson’s order granting the defendant’s motion to suppress witness testimony which identified Robert Coleman as the suspect in the surveillance video of the crime.

The Second Circuit granted the district attorney’s motion and reversed Jefferson’s ruling.

“A witness, who was previously acquainted with Coleman, stated that the man depicted in a single photograph, extracted from a surveillance video that recorded the commission of the offense, resembled Robert Coleman,” stated the appeal court’s April 28 order. “The identification procedure did not unduly focus on the defendant, who was not named, except by the witness. At the motion hearing over 17 months later, the witness was able to accurately recall Coleman’s general appearance and demeanor from the day they met, and was able to identify Coleman in court.

“We conclude that the defendant failed to meet his burden to provide evidence establishing that, under the totality of circumstances, the identification procedure used by law enforcement was so unnecessarily suggestive that it produced a tainted identification and caused a substantial likelihood of misidentification, thereby rendering the witness’ identification of Robert Coleman as unreliable.”

In written reasons supporting his verdict last week, Jefferson argued there was not enough evidence to support a positive identification of Robert Coleman as the shooter.

“No positive identification based on facial features was made of defendant as being one of the three persons from which gunfire came resulting in the victim’s death,” Jefferson wrote “The only identification made was by observation of the clothing worn by the subject in the video.”

Jefferson noted that detectives did not interview or provide any reports of any witnesses present at the funeral home about the incident.

“The state failed to meet its burden on the issue of identification which is always at issue from the inception of the events until the ultimate act is completed,” Jefferson wrote. “In sum first, law enforcement failed to pursue and interview any witness present at the funeral home for the viewing who knew (or had) personal knowledge as to the identity of Robert Coleman, thus no witness was called.”

Concerning the September 2019 incident, Devontae Coleman’s mother, Shawnta Coleman, has claimed Stevenson “sped around three times and when he came to a stop he attempted to get out and aimed a gun towards family members, and he was later shot and taken to the hospital where he was soon pronounced dead.”

Lambert provided a different account. According to Lambert, Robert Coleman spoke with Stevenson, who later tried to flee in his vehicle. Devontae Coleman drove a Dodge Charger in front of Stevenson’s vehicle, to block him from leaving. Robert Coleman, who was described as “very upset,” produced a gun and shot Stevenson several times through the car’s back window, according to the warrant.

“Once Stevenson was shot he fell out of his vehicle face down on the ground,” stated the warrant.

The driver’s side door of Stevenson’s vehicle passed over him as his vehicle traveled, unmanned, in reverse into the ditch, according to Lambert. Lambert said he believed the video showed Devontae Coleman shooting and killing Stevenson. A gunshot residue test on Devontae Coleman’s hand after the incident returned positive, Lambert said.

During questioning after the incident, Devontae Coleman did not say much, Lambert said.

“He insinuated this happened because we didn’t do anything, this happened because of his uncle,” said Lambert, referring to the late Christopher Coleman.

At the time, authorities were unable to apprehend Robert Coleman, who was not taken into custody until December 2019.

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