This week, The News begins a weekly series looking at what has become of those convicted of murder in Newton County and touching base with the victims’ loved ones. The cases span nearly four decades. Information was gathered from the archives of The News and records from the Newton County Clerk of Courts office as well as through interviews and written correspondence with involved parties.
With the recent death of convicted murderer Lanny Perry Barnes, The News decided to take a look back at crimes that rocked the county, one of which was the 2004 murder of Doyle Coleman Sr.
The modest building that was once the home of a thriving business sits empty now, weeds growing high, windows covered. It was inside that building off Ga. Highway 36 that 65-year-old Coleman took his last breath.
Coleman was found dead in his business on the afternoon of Dec. 2, 2004. The business was padlocked, and when investigators gained entry, they found a grisly scene. At least one wall was splattered with blood as was a couch, behind which Coleman’s battered body was found.
The cause of death was ruled as blunt force trauma to the head. Though no murder weapon has been found to this day, Sheriff Ezell Brown, the lead investigator for the Newton County Sheriff’s Office at that time, said that investigators always speculated that the butt of a shotgun missing from Coleman’s business was the object used in the crime.
"It was perhaps one of the most gruesome scenes that I have ever worked," said Brown, who added that anytime there is a violent death it is a horrendous thing.
Several weeks later Emory Steve Chandler, then 42, was arrested and charged in the crime. Chandler was related to Coleman by marriage (Chandler’s sister to Coleman’s son), and was a frequent visitor to the business. Chandler initially told investigators that he had not been at Coleman’s business that day but then changed his story after being confronted with witness statements and surveillance that put him at a Thomson Dairy Queen where Coleman’s wallet — empty of all cash — was located.
He then admitted to being at the business that day: dining with Coleman, picking up a part to a refrigerator Coleman had apparently given him earlier and then looking inside the padlocked building later that afternoon where he said he saw Coleman’s lifeless body and "freaked out," leaving the scene after wiping his prints from the padlock and taking with him a wallet that he said he found outside the business.
"I pulled up in front of the store and got out of my car and I looked down and saw a wallet lying beside his store, I pick up the wallet and I open it up and saw that wallet is Mr. Coleman." said Chandler in a letter from Hancock State Prison where he is currently incarcerated.
"I walked on up to the front door and saw it had a padlock on it. I grabbed the padlock and it was locked I looked in the window on the right and I saw Mr. Coleman lying there in a pool of blood to me it looked like half of his head was gone," he said. "I freaked out, I got back in my car and I got the hell out of there."
Chandler said he drove around aimlessly, arriving at the Dairy Queen where he left the wallet with a note that said "I need help" on it inside a bathroom. He then said that he bought a 22-ounce beer and a pack of cigarettes and went home, telling no one about what he saw. He said that he panicked and left the scene because he had been "running from probation warrant’s for about two years" and didn’t want to get involved. "I didn’t want to go to jail," he said.
Investigators were able to locate witnesses that told of how Chandler had made statements previously about how Coleman carried large amounts of cash on him and "needed to get robbed." He had, in fact, reported a robbery just a day before his death.
Evidence such as the wallet, the video and $50 bill that Chandler had given his landlord a day after the murder – after failing to pay her on previous occasions – were brought in as evidence. Chandler also admitted to burning a jacket that he was seen wearing in the video from Dairy Queen, because he saw himself on television wearing it. An employee from Dairy Queen testified that the bathroom looked as if someone had bathed in it when he went in to clean t and located Coleman’s wallet.
"I never doubted his guilt," said Brown. "I think we exhausted all doubt in this case. It is hard to explain away Chandler’s presence in Thomson and Coleman’s wallet that was found there." Brown also said that he could not recall Chandler showing any emotion whatsoever when questioned about the death of a man he knew well.
A man who witnesses claimed to see at the business that day – a heavyset black male – has never come forward, but Brown said that they were able to clear him when they narrowed the time frame in which Coleman was killed.
District Attorney Ken Wynne said in closing arguments "with each piece of evidence presented, the presumption of innocence was peeled back to reveal a rotten core at the center of Steve Chandler’s soul… Chandler is one self-absorbed killer."
Defense attorney Anthony Carter argued that "there is absolutely no physical evidence that links Steve Chandler to this murder." Saying that investigators and the prosecution "slanted" their story to fit the guilt on Chandler.
Chandler was found guilty after two hours of deliberation by a Newton County jury on Sept. 9, 2005, Chandler was found guilty of murder and armed robbery, for which he received life sentences, as well as tampering of evidence (10 years) and two counts of false statements for which he received five years each.
"I never hurt anybody in my life," said Chandler in his letter. "I would like the opportunity hopefully at a new trial to tell the Coleman’s family that who ever did this to Mr. Coleman is still out there."
The family of Doyle Coleman did not return calls as of press time and Chandler’s mother Patsy simply said that she continued to stand by her son.
Chandler had a Habeas Corpus hearing in 2008 and is waiting for the judge to sign a final order so that he can file a request with the Supreme Court of Georgia for a new trial. He has filed two appeals thus far.