Rape suspect held under Aniah’s Law ruling
By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
A Mobile man with a lengthy criminal history — charged with numerous crimes related to a violent sexual assault that took place in Atmore last month — has been denied bond until he goes to trial after Escambia County’s first-ever application of Aniah’s Law.
Aniah’s Law was named after 19-year-old Southern Union State Community College student Aniah Blanchard, who was kidnapped and murdered in 2019. The constitutional amendment, approved by voters and enacted in 2021, gives prosecutors and judges more power to refuse bond for violent-crime suspects, if the suspect is already out of jail on bond or out of prison on parole when he or she commits his or her most recent violent crime.
Court records show that 34-year-old Ronald Coley, who occupies a cell at the Escambia County Detention Center, was serving a 10-year sentence for a 2018 domestic violence act for which he was convicted in 2021.
He was released from state prison March 28 under the state’s new early-release program and had been out of prison less than two weeks when the Atmore attack happened.
The early-release program was designed to alleviate overcrowding in state prisons. Under its provisions, an inmate serving a sentence of no more than 5 years in prison may be released (to supervision) 3-5 months before his or her scheduled release date. An inmate serving a prison sentence of 10 years or more may be released (to supervision) 10-12 months prior to his or her scheduled release date.
The victim in the case that most recently sent Coley to prison was the same woman he is accused of raping, sodomizing and strangling during a rage that erupted when he and the victim drove to Atmore on April 7.
Atmore police learned of the attack the next day when personnel of a Mobile hospital called to report that a Mobile County woman, who was being treated at the facility for injuries related to a sexual assault, told them the attack occurred in Atmore.
The victim told APD investigators Coley “became enraged and dragged (her) into a wooded lot and physically and sexually assaulted (her).” Coley fled on foot after the assault, and the woman — bloodied and suffering from three broken ribs and severe bruising of the neck, arms, legs and abdomen — drove back to Mobile.
On April 11, Chickasaw Police Department officers helped local police locate and arrest Coley, against whom APD had secured arrest warrants charging one count each of first-degree rape, first-degree sodomy, second-degree domestic violence (assault) and domestic violence (strangulation).
He drew an additional charge of interfering with a domestic violence emergency call when police learned he threw the victim’s phone into the woods before running away.
District Court Judge Eric Coale accepted a recommendation from District Attorney Steve Billy and ordered during a special Aniah’s Law hearing that the suspect remain jailed without bond until he has had his day in court.
Sheriff Heath Jackson told reporters Coley’s demeanor during the bond hearing was proof that some people just aren’t capable of rehabilitation.
“He had only been out of prison 12 days when this happened,” the sheriff said of the April 7 assault. “He sat in our courtroom during his bond hearing and made gun gestures with his hands. He pointed them at our bailiffs, at the judge and at everybody else in the courtroom.”
Jackson told a Chicago television station Coley was twice removed from the courtroom during the judicial proceedings. He said Coley “constantly used foul language” and showed “absolutely no remorse.”
An inmate who is freed from a state correctional facility under the early release program, which was first implemented earlier this year, is required to report to a parole officer and to wear an ankle monitor. Coley apparently did neither.
“That’s why he was sent to prison, because he can’t abide by the rules of society,” Jackson said. “He was supposed to — on the honor system — report and get an ankle-bracelet monitor, but he didn’t. He’s not going to abide by any of the rules; he’s already shown that.”
Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall (an Atmore native) told Mobile television station WALA that the Coley case magnifies the folly of the early-release program, which his office strongly opposed.
“Ronald Coley’s case is a tragic indictment of Alabama’s criminal justice system,” said the state’s top prosecutor. “One glance at Coley’s extensive criminal history could tell you what his next move would be upon release. That is exactly why he waived his right to a parole hearing in November 2022 and instead opted to take advantage of the overbroad and unsophisticated early-release policies we have in place.”
Marshall said in an interview with 1819 News that the intangible price of the early-release program is high and “will be paid again and again with every month that these releases continue.”
The Attorney General added during the WALA interview that offenders such as Coley should get no break from the legal system.
“A violent offender who has failed to abide by the terms of his probation should not be eligible for a further reduced sentence — whether via ‘good time,’ early release to supervision, or in this case, both,” he said.