(Updated 2:38 p.m.) It’s been one year since inmate William B. Coleman stopped eating solid food to protest his rape conviction.
“Today, to mark the one year anniversary of his hunger strike, Bill has stopped taking all fluids,” a statement from Mr. Coleman’s family in Great Britain revealed Tuesday.
“This is a decision that has not been easy as his family and supporters have worked hard to prevent this from happening over the past four years. However, we were unable to convince him to stop,” the family’s statement says.
Mr. Coleman’s family says he’s looking for a fair and neutral investigation into “Connecticut’s broken judicial system that ruins many people’s lives.”
More specifically, Mr. Coleman, a British citizen and former Waterbury resident, is protesting his rape conviction. Mr. 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 by his wife three days after Mr. Coleman filed for sole custody of their two children.
According to the Waterbury Republican-American’s coverage of the original trial, no hospital examination of Mrs. Coleman was ever performed for the investigation by Waterbury police, and a polygraph test showed that Mr. Coleman had answered truthfully in the negative when asked if he had raped his wife. However, polygraph tests generally are not admissible as evidence in Connecticut.
“Mr. Coleman is convinced that his situation is not at all unique and that many parents, in the course of custody disputes, suffer false accusations and convictions. As a result, Mr. Coleman believes Connecticut’s judicial system is broken and corrupt,” court documents state.
Coleman’s first ex-wife Angela, who refused to give her last name, said in a phone interview from Great Britain Tuesday afternoon that she’s concerned about Mr. Coleman’s decision not to consume any more fluids.
“He can be quite stubborn,” she said.
She said she did everything she could during his initial trial when the allegations of rape by his second ex-wife were made against him. She said she even spoke with a court social worker and agreed to a video conference, so she could be a character witness for him in court. She said she can’t believe the trial “was all on her say.”
She said Mr.Coleman believes his second ex-wife may have been suffering from postpartum depression at the time she made the allegations.
In January Superior Court Judge James Graham granted the state Department of Correction permission to force feed Mr. Coleman, but he was successful in getting the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut to step in a few months later to ask the court to vacate its decision and allow him to continue his hunger strike.
The case filed by the ACLU this summer argues that the court’s decision to grant the state permission to force feed Mr. Coleman violates his free speech and privacy rights. In court documents, the ACLU argues that on Nov. 26, 2007, Mr. Coleman executed a living will in which he says he will not consent to being force fed.
Nevertheless, the state may exercise its power at any moment to insert a feeding tube through his nose, down his throat and to his stomach.
“A person has a constitutional right to determine what happens to his or her body,” David McGuire, ACLU-CT’s staff attorney, said in a press release shortly after filing the motion in July. “Inserting a feeding tube against Mr. Coleman’s will is a violation of his right to bodily integrity and his right to deny medical treatment.”
A court hearing on the ACLU’s motion was scheduled near the end of August, but it was postponed until December when a bench trial on the constitutional arguments can be made, Mr. McGuire said in a telephone interview Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. McGuire, who visited Coleman today at Osborn, said his client is “worn out.” He said that aside from the physical toll of the hunger strike, the ordeal has taken “an amazing emotional drain” on his client. He said he hopes the Correction Department continues to respect his client’s right to deny any medical treatment because in addition to his privacy rights, Mr. Coleman’s “political protest would be silenced if they decided to force feed him.”
McGuire said he’s looking forward to a full trial on the merits of Mr. Coleman’s case, which would be the first time this constitutional right was tried in the state of Connecticut.
In January, Dr. Edward Blanchette, director of clinical operations for the Correction Department, said Mr. Coleman was maintaining his strength by drinking milk, juice, and water.
Deputy Correction Department Commissioner Brian Murphy testified on January 14, just five-months into Mr. Coleman’s hunger strike, that hunger strikes were fairly common among prisoners, but “as far as I’m aware, I have not seen any that have gone on this long.”
Correction Department spokesman Brian Garnett said in a written statement Tuesday that he is not certain whether Mr. Coleman’s is the longest prisoner hunger strike on record.
“That is a stat that we do not keep,” Garnett wrote. “The injunctive relief we were granted allowed us to utilize the necessary means to protect his health. To this point there has been no need to force feed him.”
Up to June 25, Mr. Coleman was in the medical ward at the MacDougall-Walker Correctional facility, but since then he has been integrated back into the general population at Osborn Correctional Center where he is housed in a two-person cell.
Meanwhile, Mr. Coleman’s family and friends have set up a Web site to let people know about the case.