A Virginia man who admitted to punching a woman after she called him a racial slur could spend 10 years behind bars for his role in the fatal encounter.
Robert Coleman was found guilty of second-degree murder in an Alexandria court Monday, April 2, after unsuccessfully arguing that while he did punch victim Fedelia Montiel-Benitez at a 7-Eleven last summer, he never intended to kill her, the Washington Post reported.
Coleman, 27, told police the woman, who he mistook for a man, called him the n-word during a heated verbal exchange, and he snapped. The powerful blow sent Montiel-Benitez into a coma, from which she never recovered.
She died from her injuries just 10 days later.
“We of course remain disappointed that they didn’t see it as manslaughter,” Coleman’s attorney, Robert Jenkins, said after the jury returned with their verdict. “…This was not something that he wanted to happen, that he did not intend to take someone’s life.”
According to The Washington Post, Coleman will be formally sentenced by a judge on May 24. The jury has already recommended a sentence of 10 years, a benign punishment for a charge that can carry a maximum of 40 years.
“In an all-too-often repeated theme, a tragedy unfolded because of a defendant’s inability to tolerate a perceived slight,” Commonwealth’s Attorney Bryan Porter said in a statement. “Verbal arguments should never devolve into physical altercations because physical altercations often bring devastating consequences.”
The deadly incident unfolded last July as Coleman was buying cigarettes and Montiel-Benitez was purchasing alcohol at the nearby convenience store. Surveillance footage showed the two exchange a few words, but there’s no audio. The source of the bad blood between them remains unclear.
In the footage, Montiel-Benitez is seen walking to the door and then turning around. That’s when Coleman said she called him the slur. Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney David Lord denied this, however, arguing the 39-year-old woman wasn’t proficient enough in English to use such a word.
Coleman’s girlfriend, Nikki Howard, testified in court and said she couldn’t hear the entirety of Coleman and the woman’s conversation, but broke the two up. She also recalled hearing Montiel-Benitez curse at her boyfriend.
In the video, Coleman is seen chasing after the woman outside. Another camera captured the moment he delivered the punch that would end Montiel-Benitez’s life.
“Words alone” are no reason to kill,” Lord argued.