An Indiana man finds out Wednesday whether he goes to prison for a Nov. 6 carjacking in Peru or whether a jury finds there isn’t enough evidence against him.
Prosecutors rested Tuesday in their case against 30-year-old Darion Coleman of Gary. Coleman and his lawyer declined to present a case of their own.
Coleman is charged with aggravated vehicular hijacking (sentencing range: six to 30 years) for allegedly stealing a Nissan Rogue and injuring the driver as the vehicle sped from Clocktower Shell. The charge was elevated to “aggravated” because there was a teen inside the vehicle.
Violet Sobin, of El Paso, testified that she was refueling the borrowed Nissan when a stranger ran up and ordered her out, warning the gas station was about to “get shot up.” Sobin’s two passengers jumped out. She stayed put until the assailant pulled her from the driver’s seat, got behind the wheel and started the engine. She tried to stop him.
“He took off while I was holding on and I hit the ground and got run over,” said Sobin, who suffered lower-leg injuries. The Nissan was recovered the next day in Ladd.
Who hijacked the Nissan? The vehicle was processed for DNA, but the results were not returned in time for trial. Coleman also quit talking to a Peru police officer who sought him at Montgomery County Jail, where Coleman was held on unrelated charges and the state was left without a statement.
However, Sobin was asked to identify the carjacker and she, from the witness stand, pointed at Coleman. Sobin insisted she got a good look at him.
But how much weight the jury gives Sobin’s testimony might hinge on additional evidence that presents problems for both state and defense.
Defense attorney Ryan Hamer seized upon the fact one of Sobin’s passengers, her brother Dawson, didn’t get a good look at the car thief. The other passenger, who was 15 years old at the time, said he saw the assailant and identified Coleman.
There was a problem: Coleman was masked during Tuesday’s proceedings — and he hadn’t lowered the surgical mask when Steele pointed at Coleman, who is Black.
“The only Black man sitting in the court room is my client, is that right?” Hamer said. “Is that the reason you identified him?”
“I guess,” Steele answered.
But prosecutors might have a way around that. A Peru police officer searched the gas island where the Nissan had been stopped and found a traffic citation with Coleman’s name on it.
A state police trooper then testified he wrote that ticket earlier that evening after he clocked Coleman driving 107 mph through an Interstate 80 construction zone and then impounded the car. Left without his car, Coleman accepted a ride to Super 8 in Peru — a short walk from Clocktower Shell — but never checked in. All this happened a short time before the carjacking.
State troopers also viewed Clocktower’s surveillance footage and testified that the assailant looked like Coleman. The figure in the video wore the same sweatshirt and pants as Coleman had on when pulled over.
Closing arguments begin at 11 a.m. Judge Cynthia M. Raccuglia advised jurors that they will deliberate over lunch. A verdict is expected Wednesday afternoon.