A Charleston man, who faced a murder charge for allegedly giving a woman the dose of heroin that killed her last year, pleaded guilty Wednesday to much lesser charges.
Kanawha County prosecutors had charged Steven Craig Coleman with murder in the death of Melody Ann Oxley. On Wednesday, prosecutors dismissed that murder charge when Coleman pleaded guilty to a felony drug charge and involuntary manslaughter, a misdemeanor.
Coleman — who had faced life in prison if convicted of murder — now faces a maximum one-year sentence for the misdemeanor and a possible one- to three-year sentence for attempting to deliver a controlled substance.
Kanawha Circuit Judge Jennifer Bailey will sentence Coleman on June 6. He already has served nearly a year in jail and was taken back there after Wednesday’s hearing.
Attorney Rico Moore, who represents Coleman, asked the judge to set a bail amount for Coleman after he pleaded guilty to the lesser charges. Moore noted Coleman has barely any criminal history and strong ties to the area.
Bailey refused, saying she wasn’t clear on who Coleman would live with while awaiting sentencing. She also noted the seriousness of the circumstances surrounding the charges Coleman admitted to, despite the deal.
“I’m not satisfied with where he would go or who he would be around or where he would live. Based on descriptions of the events that have occurred, his family’s conduct surrounding the events, I believe, at this time, even though this is a misdemeanor offense, it does involve a death,” the judge said.
On Wednesday, prosecutors wouldn’t say why they agreed to the deal with Coleman on the lesser charges. Kanawha First Assistant Prosecutor Don Morris said he didn’t want to comment until after Coleman is sentenced.
Prosecutors will ask the judge to make Coleman’s sentences run consecutively, one after the other.
When they filed the murder charge, prosecutors said they hoped it would send a message to heroin dealers.
Under state law, first-degree murder can include “murder . . . by a felony offense of manufacturing or delivering a controlled substance.” Kanawha prosecutors haven’t used that provision much, but Prosecuting Attorney Charles Miller has said his office is trying to send a message.
Coleman’s attorney has said prosecutors got it wrong in filing the murder charge against his client. After a hearing last year, Moore said Coleman is a heroin addict and speculated that, faced with the threat of prosecution, drug users might not call 911 when a person they are sharing drugs with overdoses.
Last month, Moore filed a motion to dismiss the murder charge, arguing that police didn’t follow the law in questioning Coleman after Oxley’s death.
Charleston police said last year that Coleman provided them with a statement in which he admitted to providing the heroin to Oxley. Moore wrote in the motion to dismiss that police never read Coleman his Miranda rights before taking the statement and did so without his attorney present. Bailey had not yet ruled on the motion. Moore also has argued during previous hearings that the statement was taken while Coleman was high on heroin and Xanax.
Wednesday’s hearing was supposed to be a pre-trial hearing. Coleman’s trial had been scheduled for May 16.
Prosecutors spent more than an hour speaking with Oxley’s family members before Coleman pleaded guilty. He also spent time with his attorney and several of his family members before accepting the deal.
On Feb. 14, 2015, Oxley went to the house that Coleman and his father, Steve Slater, shared on Charleston’s West Side. Police say Coleman gave Slater and Oxley heroin after they begged for it.
Oxley’s body was found in a back bedroom of the 7th Street house. Coleman called 911 and then went to the house next door.
Coleman admitted that he had purchased about 20 grams of heroin for $1,000 about a week before the woman’s death. The drug was for his personal use, Morris said Wednesday, reading from the deal Coleman signed.
The night Oxley died, Coleman put a line of heroin on a plate for a woman who had also been staying at the house and then another for his father. Slater then took his line to the bedroom where Oxley’s body was found by paramedics, the prosecutor said.
Prosecutors waited to charge Coleman until after Oxley’s autopsy. The report from the state Medical Examiner’s Office, according to police, showed that her death was caused by an overdose of heroin, alprazolam and clonazepam. Moore has been quick to point out the other drugs in Oxley’s system. On Wednesday, Morris said a toxicology report proves it was heroin that killed Oxley.
“But for the heroin, Mrs. Oxley would not have died,” he said.
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