Soldier Gets 28 Years for Shooting

A decorated Army sergeant from Blacksburg will serve 28 years for shooting and wounding a Roanoke County woman, then later severely beating a man in the bathroom of a city bar.

Christopher Coleman, 23, was sentenced Friday in excess of guidelines because of the severity of the crimes and an apparent lack of compassion, Roanoke County Circuit Court Judge Charlie Dorsey said.

"I don't believe you truly feel that remorse," Dorsey said. "To the extent you have remorse it doesn't resonate on any level with me being genuine."

Coleman pleaded guilty in May to shooting Mary Cook-Moore, 33, in the living room of her parents' Bonsack Road home March 16, 2011. He faced charges of malicious wounding, abduction and misdemeanor reckless driving in that incident.

He also pleaded guilty to malicious wounding in Roanoke Circuit Court last year for beating a welder, Tyler Scott Durham, in the restroom of the Bridge Street Grille, just one day after Cook-Moore's shooting. Coleman stomped on the man's ankle, breaking it in three places.

The two cases were consolidated for sentencing in Roanoke County Circuit Court.

The violent weekend spree came after Coleman returned from deployment in Afghanistan in early March. He was injured in a rocket attack in January 2011 -- for which he was awarded a Purple Heart -- and spent several weeks in hospitals overseas before returning to Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Although ordered to get mental health treatment, Coleman instead drove to Roanoke where he met up with childhood friend Warren Taylor Nutt.

Coleman and Nutt returned from a night out drinking to a room Nutt rented from Cook-Moore. The two men began fighting and Cook-Moore's husband asked Coleman to leave. Cook-Moore, seeing Coleman was intoxicated and about to get behind the wheel, took him across the street to sleep at her parents' home.

There, Coleman got ahold of a family handgun, threatened Cook-Moore and later shot her in the thigh. He was arrested soon after and released without bond about 10 a.m. the next day. When he returned to Cook-Moore's house for his car, there was another altercation as Coleman raced his car past Cook-Moore's mother.

He testified he then spent that day drinking, then went to Bridge Street Grille with Nutt and fought with Durham.

Dorsey sentenced Coleman on Friday to 15 years for malicious wounding, five years for abduction and 12 months and $1,000 fine on the reckless driving charge. For the malicious wounding in the city, Coleman was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Coleman and Nutt are both liable for about $3,700 in restitution. Coleman will also have to pay restitution for Cook-Moore's medical expenses, but Dorsey said those will have to be determined at a later date. Cook-Moore said she and her family were out-of-pocket about $100,000.

Cook-Moore, who was in a wheelchair Friday, said afterward her life would never be the same.

"He ruined my life forever and I don't get a Purple Heart for it," she said.

During the hearing, the defense and prosecution both depicted Coleman's youth as troubled, but their stories diverged.

Defense attorney Greg Phillips pointed to his client's hospitalization during his teenage years for "some bizarre behavior" and Coleman admitted to a suicide attempt during that period.

Prosecutors introduced details of his early brushes with the law, and Roanoke Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Wanda DeWease brought up Coleman's half-dozen stints in juvenile court, which included a felony charge and two probation violations.

Coleman said he essentially escaped into the Army: "It gave me a purpose."

He served as a scout, first in Iraq, then Afghanistan, and participated in 25 to 30 firefights. He said he saw his own comrades killed in action before he was injured in a rocket attack in January 2011.

After hospitalizations overseas, Coleman returned stateside.

"I was having a difficult time being back," he testified. In March, two months after his combat injury, he returned to Roanoke. The attacks on Cook-Moore and Durham soon followed.

Phillips asked the judge to take into account Coleman's military service, but the prosecution argued that Coleman's status as a decorated veteran did not justify leniency.

"I'm a veteran," Roanoke County Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Rick Buchanan said. "I do not buy the argument you can balance a military career with a crime such as this."

The judge agreed, and speculated Coleman's problems likely stemmed from a crucial flaw.

"I believe that long before you got into the military, you failed to have ... a normal aspect of humanity, which is compassion and caring for others," Dorsey told Coleman.

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