AUBURN — A Lewiston man Tuesday denied a murder charge stemming from the August shooting of a Lewiston woman in her driveway.

Jaquille Coleman Submitted photo

A judge in Androscoggin County Superior Court ordered Jaquille J. Coleman, 26, of 37 Union St. held without bail pending his trial, which may be scheduled in April or later.

Coleman pleaded not guilty to a charge of intentional or knowing murder, a crime punishable by 25 years to life in prison.

His attorney, Verne Paradie, argued Tuesday that Coleman has a close family support network in Vermont that would supervise him if the judge were to allow him to be released on bail.

In Maine, defendants charged with formerly capital crimes such as murder may be released on bail at the trial’s judge’s discretion.

Paradie said Coleman left the state shortly after the shooting of Natasha Morgan, 19, in the driveway of her Scribner Boulevard home in Lewiston on Aug. 21.

Coleman appeared to have driven to Vermont to visit one of his children, then to Texas to see another child, Paradie said, explaining the disappearance of the defendant.

After leaving Texas, he was enroute to Alabama where two of his uncles live and where he had intended to surrender to law enforcement authorities, having learned there was a murder warrant for his arrest in Maine, Paradie said.

He said Coleman’s aunts, uncles, including two who attended Tuesday’s hearing, and others have reached out to Paradie with concern, but who also appear to exercise influence over him, he said.

Paradie proposed that Coleman pay for an electronic monitor ankle bracelet and be confined to house arrest under the supervision of one of his aunts and uncles, who would also post his bail and see to it that Coleman didn’t flee.

“They’re not going to allow Mr. Coleman to easily put at risk their money,” Paradie said.

He said he understood that seeking bail for someone charged with murder was “asking for a lot.”

Other elements for the court to consider in granting bail for a former capital crime include possible risk to the community.

Paradie noted Coleman isn’t accused of threatening anyone else besides the victim at the time of the shooting and he surrendered peacefully.

If confined to home arrest, Coleman is likely to appear in court for scheduled hearings and is unlikely to commit any new crimes, Paradie said.

Assistant Attorney General Megan Elam told Justice Valerie Stanfill on Tuesday that Coleman fled the state of Maine after the shooting and had to be brought back to Maine from Mississippi on a murder warrant.

“You have no reason to think that, given the fact that he fled the state after he killed Natasha, that he would remain in the state if he were released on bail,” Elam said.

Stanfill agreed, denying Coleman bail pending trial.

She said there was a “substantial risk” that Coleman might not appear in court if released.

“The fact that he did flee and had to be extradited from out of state does, given the seriousness of the charge and the seriousness of the potential penalty, lead this court to find that a risk does exist and by clear and convincing evidence.”

Paradie filed a motion in September seeking a change of venue, hoping the judge would agree to move Coleman’s trial out of Androscoggin County due to pretrial publicity he said “significantly prejudiced” the defendant to the point where he would be able to receive a fair trial if it were held in Auburn.

Local newspaper articles about Coleman’s case generated comments evoking anti-African American sentiment that reflect the community, Paradie said.

“The press has just been so negative,” he said, also citing a TV station’s story in which the reporter “actually said that (Coleman) shot her or something to that effect” and didn’t qualify the statement with “allegedly.”

Paradie said Coleman would stand a better chance of picking a jury “closer to his peers” in a larger and more ethnically diverse city in Maine, such as Portland.

“I don’t see a good reason not to,” Paradie said.

Witnesses should be able to easily travel to Portland to testify at the trial, he said.

Elam said the venue of a trial should only be changed if a defendant can’t pick a fair and impartial jury. She also argued that Androscoggin County is as ethnically and racially diverse as any county in Maine.

She said it was “premature” for the court to rule on moving the trial, which wouldn’t be held for another five months at the earliest.

Stanfill agreed that the factors considered in moving a trial should be at the time of jury selection, citing the statute.

But Stanfill noted the high number of prospective jurors who are excluded from being empaneled due to prejudice and bias.

“Having selected juries in this county, I do find it somewhat shocking how many people are disqualified on the basis of their racial biases,” she said. “Nonetheless, we do disqualify them to the best of our ability and I think that issue is anywhere in this state. It’s sad. It’s shocking. But it’s something that we will do our very best to deal with obviously in jury selection and I don’t have any reason to think it would be better somewhere else.”

She said she might reconsider Paradie’s motion closer to the time of trial “if it appears, obviously, we are unable to select an appropriate jury.”

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