A judge on Tuesday sentenced an Omaha man to the equivalent of 42 to 52 years in prison after the man repeatedly wrapped a scarf around a 2-year-old’s neck and hanged her several times as she lost and regained consciousness.
David J. Coleman, 38, videotaped the abuse — a video that a veteran law enforcement official called the worst she has seen.
Under the 84- to 104-year sentence — which is cut in half under state law — Coleman will be eligible for parole after he serves 42 years. Absent parole, the nine-time felon will have to serve 52 years in prison.
Douglas County District Judge Duane Dougherty gave Coleman the maximum on the reduced charges to which he pleaded: two counts of child abuse resulting in serious bodily injury. Coleman also got four years in prison for being a felon in possession of a knife.
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“There was extreme violence here,” Dougherty said. “When someone harms a child that age — or no matter the age — in that nature, it’s as bad as it gets.”
Both sets of choking incidents happened Dec. 14. Coleman videotaped both of them. (He later blamed methamphetamine for both the violence and the videotaping of it.)
The 2-year-old girl — the daughter of Coleman’s then-girlfriend — survived the multiple chokings, each of which lasted a minute or more.
Prosecutor Molly Keane, a deputy Douglas County attorney, said it’s unknown how much lasting psychological damage was done to the child.
The girl’s mother wrote a victim-impact statement outlining her betrayal and anguish over the incident.
“It has changed this child’s life in ways we may never know,” Keane said. “How she survived this torture is a mystery. But she did — luckily for her, luckily for her family and luckily for this defendant. Because he would be charged with first-degree murder.”
The 2-year-old’s mother called police Dec. 17 to say that she was shuffling through her boyfriend’s phone when she came across a video from Dec. 14.
She recognized the background of the video as her storage unit near 129th Street and West Maple Road. Her heart raced as she saw the rest.
The video showed Coleman “hanging her two year old daughter with a pink scarf, by her neck, from a shelving unit, causing her to become strangled,” a detective’s affidavit said.
“The victim hanged by the neck, losing the ability to breathe and losing consciousness. The suspect (then) could be seen grabbing her roughly by the chest and lifting her with the ligature still tied to her neck to release pressure just enough to allow her to breathe, gasp, cry and gurgle, before dropping her in a hanging position, again, only to restart the previous cycle.”
Omaha Police Detective Alexis Boults wrote that the incident “continued for five minutes.”
A detective searching Coleman’s phone then found another video from a half-hour before. In that video, the 2-year-old was in her car seat. Coleman “could be seen wrapping the same pink scarf around the victim’s neck multiple times, while she was seated in the car seat.”
“The victim can be seen on video turning red and blue in the face,” Boults wrote. “The victim appeared to try crying but was unable to because the ligature was pulled so tightly by the suspect to stop her from breathing, speaking or crying.”
Coleman’s attorney, Assistant Public Defender Kyle Melia, said Tuesday that Coleman was embarrassed and ashamed of his actions. Judge Dougherty had noted Coleman’s criminal record, which included an earlier child abuse case in which a child suffered broken bones and burns from a heating pad. Coleman had just gotten out of prison four months before this abuse.
For his part, Coleman told the judge: “I am mortified by these actions. It’s a struggle every day for me. I’m very sorry.”
In more than four decades as a lawyer, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine said this case came as close to any as he has had that fit the definition of torture.
“It’s beyond what anybody would think someone is capable of doing,” he said. “As disturbing a child abuse case as we’ve ever seen.
“We’re pleased with the sentence and the fact that he’ll never be able to hurt a child again. He needed to be put away forever.”