Coleman pleads; gets 20 years in prison for fire deaths of her children, husband

Coleman is sworn in before Circuit Court Judge R. Keith Kelly. | Barbara Ball

WINNSBORO – Sharon Coleman, 35, was sentenced to 20 years in prison Monday after pleading guilty in the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court in Winnsboro, to three counts of involuntary manslaughter and two counts of unlawful neglect of a child in the deaths of her two children and her husband last year.

Circuit Judge R. Keith Kelly presided over the non-jury proceedings. Coleman had initially been charged with three counts of murder, first degree arson and two counts of unlawful actions toward a child. The arson charge was dropped and the murder charges were reduced to involuntary manslaughter in response to her plea.

Coleman was arrested May 7, 2017 after she was accused of setting an early-morning house fire at 120 Robinson Avenue in Winnsboro that claimed the lives of her husband and her two children.

According to Fairfield County Coroner Chris Hill, the bodies of Justin Wilson, 29, Kenya Coleman, 8, and Deshawn Wilson, 6, were recovered by firefighters inside the residence. An autopsy found the cause of deaths to be carbon monoxide poisoning and thermal burns.

Assistant Sixth Circuit Solicitor Riley Maxwell told the Court that Coleman killed her husband and children by setting the residence on fire and failing to extinguish the fire while the victims slept inside the home. He said Coleman admitted leaving the home in the early morning hours of May 7 to go for a short walk, leaving her family asleep in the house, and when she returned the house was on fire.

Coleman and public defender Robert Fitzsimmons.

Maxwell said Coleman’s version of entering the house through the burning kitchen and walking down a hall leading to the victim’s bedrooms before exiting the home and going to a neighbor’s home to call 911 was inconsistent with arson investigators’ findings.

“The arson investigators were suspicious of Ms. Coleman’s story,” Maxwell said. “It was inconsistent with their findings. The kitchen would have been too hot to enter and her clothing did not appear to have smoke or ash on them,” he said.

Maxwell said Coleman offered various reasons for the cause of the fire – faulty electrical wiring and that, as she left the home to go on her walk, she noticed a flame in a can in the kitchen that the family used to extinguish cigarettes, but she thought the fire would go out.

Maxwell said investigators found no fault with the wiring, and could not determine the exact cause of the fire, although they did determine that the fire started in the kitchen.

“No one knows the cause of the fire,” public defender Robert Fitzsimmons told the Court in Coleman’s defense. “There’s a lot of talk and investigation, but no one knows the cause of the fire. That’s why they dropped the arson charge.”

Fitzsimmons said that while Coleman accepts responsibility for the deaths, he placed the blame for the three deaths on Justin Wilson.

“Mrs. Coleman left her two children in the care of a responsible adult,” Fitzsimmons said. “She is here to take responsibility for her misjudgment that it was safe to leave her children with [Wilson.] All that talk about where the flame was and how hot it was, all we know is she left the house with her two children in the care of their father and they died.”

In suggesting concurrent sentencing for all charges against Coleman or approximately five to seven years, Fitzsimmons said society has its own punishment in addition to what Coleman has already been through.

“Her children are gone. She’ll suffer for the rest of her life,” Fitzsimmons said. “It’s very difficult to imagine the pain a mother goes through, the grief process. It’s difficult to get a picture of Sharon Coleman as she sits here. She’s taking anti-depressants. She’s lost two toes and is on pain meds. All this flattens her personality. And today she’s extremely nervous and hasn’t slept. She is always bereaved. Her two children and her husband are dead. No matter what else happens, she will always be a mother who lost two children before she was 35,” Fitzsimmons said. “She takes responsibility for the deaths of her children. It’s in her heart, her every waking moment.”

Coleman, who Fitzsimmons said had suffered a broken foot, entered the Courtroom using a walker and sat throughout the proceedings.

“I’m so sorry,” she told the judge in a soft voice that was barely audible, “I know I can’t bring them back, but…” Her voice trailed off, becoming completely inaudible before she placed her hand over her face and cried quietly.

Justin Wilson’s brother, who was the only witness called, said he was visiting the home until late on the night of the fire.

“I don’t know why she did it. There was no pot on the stove when I left, no wood in the stove, nothing was going on,” Wilson said during his length testimony. “I just wonder what was going on”.

Each of the two unlawful neglect of a child indictments carry 10-year sentences and will be served consecutively. The three involuntary manslaughter charges each carry five year sentences and will be served concurrently with the two unlawful neglect charges for a total of 20 years. Coleman will receive 679 days credit for time she has already been incarcerated.