Dressed in an orange jumpsuit that looked several sizes too big for his now slender body an inmate from MacDougall-Walker Correctional Institute tried to explain to Hartford Superior Court Judge James T. Graham Monday why he’s been on a hunger strike for more than three months.
William B. Coleman, 47, said he’s on a hunger strike to protest what he feels was his “wrongful” conviction. Coleman was convicted by a jury in 2005 for sexually assaulting his wife, who he divorced in 2004 after a tumultuous nine-year marriage. The rape allegation was made after Coleman filed for sole custody of the two children and no rape kit was ever performed.
“I’m not going to wait for the state of Connecticut to dole out truth and justice,” Coleman testified Monday. “I’m prepared to go as long as it would take, even if I take my life.”
Doctors from the Department of Corrections testified that Coleman is mentally competent and will likely live more than a month before he starts causing permanent damage to his body. However, the Department of Corrections isn’t willing to sit by and watch as he deteriorates, which is why it asked the court to step in and allow doctors to force feed Coleman.
Coleman,a British citizen and former Waterbury resident, said when he started his hunger strike on Sept. 16 he was about 250 to 255 pounds. He currently weighs an estimated 160 pounds, according to court documents.
Dr. Edward Blanchette, director of clinical operations for the Corrections Department, testified that Mr. Coleman is not eating any solid food, but is drinking water, juice, and milk. “His hydration level is certainly fine, it’s purely a caloric intake problem,” he said.
Dr. Blanchette said Mr. Coleman’s muscles were wasting and his red blood cell count is down, but the protein in the milk has tempered his deterioration.
When will he die of starvation?
Dr. Blanchette estimated it “could be as little as a month from now or several months from now, it depends on how much milk he’s drinking.”
To which Judge Graham responded, “Wait, then why are we here?”
“We may have to admit him to John Dempsey hospital,” Dr. Blanchette said explaining that “If he continues as he is there’s no question he will cause himself irreparable damage.”
Deputy Corrections Commissioner Brian Murphy testified Monday that hunger strikes were fairly common amongst prisoners, but “as far as I’m aware, I have not seen any that have gone on this long.”
Murphy testified that he spoke with Mr. Coleman last week while on a tour of MacDougall-Walker. He said he tried to tell him he’s halfway through his sentence and if he wants to fight the legal system he needs to be healthy.
“Our primary concern here is the preservation of Mr. Coleman’s life,” Murphy said. He said Correction employees try to convince prisoners to start eating again before more severe methods like force feeding are even suggested. He said force feeding is used as a last resort and in his 26 years with the Connecticut Correction Department he can only think of two instances in which the matter was brought before the court. He said the issues usually resolve themselves because the inmates start eating again.
“I’m trying to save my children,” Mr. Coleman testified. His children now 9 and 11 years old live with his ex-wife in Waterbury. “I want to save them now, not five years from now,” he said. However, he admitted that once his sentence is completed he will be deported to England and if he dies before that he would be contributing to the “abuse” of his children. He said he wants some governmental agency, whether it’s the British Consulate or the Attorney General, to step in and investigate his criminal case.
Judge Graham seemed unconvinced Mr. Coleman was going to die immediately from starvation, but asked him to continue drinking juice and milk so he could “maintain a ring side seat to oral arguments,” on Jan. 22.