When S.C. Department of Corrections (SCDC) inmate Joey Dean Coleman allegedly called in a bomb threat during the double homicide trial of convicted killer Alex Murdaugh at the Colleton County Courthouse on February 8, 2023, prison officials acted quickly. They transferred Coleman from Ridgeland Correctional Institution to a lockup at SCDC’s Broad River Secure Facility pending the outcome of the investigation.
Nearly six months after his arrest, however, Coleman has yet to be formally charged in connection with this high-profile incident – and no disciplinary action has been taken against him aside from a temporary move to a secure facility while the investigation was ongoing.
In fact, just two months after the bomb threat Coleman was moved from Broad River’s secure facility to its main prison complex.
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As jury selection began in Murdaugh’s trial on January 23, 2023, Coleman was being transferred from one state facility to another. He requested the transfer in June 2022 due to hardship. It was processed on January 23, 2023 and the following day – after spending two years at McCormick Correctional Institution – Coleman was moved to Ridgeland in Jasper County.
At some point during his incarceration, the 32-year-old convict acquired a cell phone. And a mere fifteen days after his transfer, that phone was used to allege the presence of an explosive device in the chambers of S.C. circuit court judge Clifton Newman.
According to a news release from the Colleton County sheriff’s office, an “unidentified male caller” telephoned the courthouse’s main switchboard at some point after noon and claimed there was a “bomb in the judge’s chamber.”
The veteran judge promptly evacuated the historic building so law enforcement could conduct a sweep and secure the site. Finding no incendiary device, court resumed hours later.
Colleton sheriff’s deputies stated there was no “direct connection” between Coleman and Alex Murdaugh “or the Murdaugh trial.”
CRAZY HOAX? OR STRATEGIC MANEUVER?
The disruption caused by the bomb threat fueled significant speculation at the time – and in days and weeks to come. Specifically, questions were raised as to whether there was anything behind Coleman’s bomb threat – which hardly seemed a random event.
In South Carolina prisons, contraband cell phones are acquired at a high price – on the order of thousands of dollars. If this disruption was indeed planned, who provided the cell phone Coleman used to make the call? Was Coleman compensated in any way to make the threat? What was the intent? To distract, delay, or make the court appear unsafe? Who stood to benefit from the very public distraction?
FITSNews has requested information from state and local officials about Coleman’s status – and the potential for future charges. Meanwhile, we have submitted a round of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking information on how much this incident cost taxpayers.
Coleman’s sentence began February 6, 2020 upon his conviction for armed robbery, kidnapping, assault and battery – the result of an incident that occurred in November 2018 in Hampton County. Even prior to the bomb threat incident, he was not eligible for release until October 7, 2045.
ANSWERS IN THE PRISON RECORD?
During the first year of his incarceration, Coleman found himself in trouble behind bars.
On September 24, 2020, while still at Kirkland for evaluation, he wrote the following on a request to a staff member during the Covid-19 scare:
Ten months sitting here and two negative tests SMH. Y’all just walk the yard and play like this don’t even bother y’all. We starve on weekends with two meals, weekdays and weekends no canteen, cheap hygiene, no medical attention, no pictures of family can be received, two free phone calls with 15 only minutes. This enough to kidnap the COs and demand things. But that’s a waste of time, instead I’m respectfully asking for change?
The following day, Coleman was questioned and his cell was searched. He received disciplinary sanctions for possessing a weapon – which prison records indicated was a homemade shiv – and for affiliating with a gang called Folk Nation. These infractions resulted in loss of canteen privileges for 100 days, disciplinary detention for ten days, loss of visitation privileges for 45 days and loss of telephone privileges for 100 days. These are the only sanctions noted on Coleman’s SCDC prison record as of July 31, 2023.
Additional information about Coleman obtained through FOIA requests provided few clues. His canteen habits were unchanged. His last visitor prior to the bomb threat – his mother – was logged January 28, 2023. Inmate records indicate Coleman completed the Employability Skills Curriculum on February 27, 2023. It was the first time during his incarceration that Coleman availed himself of the training opportunities available to inmates.
Following the bomb threat, Coleman was transferred out of lockup on April 19, 2023.
If Coleman’s intention in requesting a transfer from McCormick to Ridgeland based on hardship was so he could visit with family more often, the consequences of the bomb threat likely derailed those plans.
But what will those consequences ultimately be? Count on this news outlet to keep tabs on this forgotten component of the Murdaugh trial …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Callie Lyons is a journalist, researcher, and author whose investigative work can be found in media outlets, publications, and documentaries all over the world – most recently in the Parisian newspaper Le Monde and a German documentary for ProSieben. Lyons also appears in Citizen Sleuth – a 2023 documentary exploring the genre of true crime.
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