Thursday, April 3, 2014 | 12:05 p.m.
CARSON CITY – The Nevada Supreme Court today reversed the conviction of Rayshaun Coleman and ordered a new trial for him in the death of a 42-day-old boy in Henderson in March 2009.
The court said Clark County District Judge Michael Villani was wrong in not allowing the defense to call two witnesses that may have cast doubt on the guilt of Coleman, who was convicted of first-degree murder. Villani had ruled the two witnesses were not trustworthy.
The court said the error merited a new trial for Coleman, who was sentenced to 20 years to life in prison.
Coleman was a boyfriend of Crystal Hilburn Gaynor, who was the mother of Tristen Hilburn. Gaynor, at the time of the death, was serving a term in jail for a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction in another incident. Coleman was taking care of the child.
Coleman told police he bathed the boy and put him to bed on March 9, 2009. Coleman took a nap and when he awoke he found the child on the floor. Police were called. The baby had second-degree burns over 36 percent of his body and blunt-force trauma blows to the head.
He died in the hospital.
At trial, Coleman wanted to call two women who were Gaynor’s cellmates.
The women, Erica Antolick and Dawn Makaroplos, said in jailhouse conversations Gaynor told them she was holding the child when a cooking pot of methamphetamine exploded, resulting in the burns to her and the child.
The court, in a decision written by Justice Michael Cherry, said the exclusion of the evidence “affected Coleman’s constitutional right to a meaningful opportunity to present a complete defense.”
Cherry said such evidence may have shown Coleman was not responsible for the burns that contributed to the child’s death.
The 23-page decision said the boy “was extremely small and malnourished, weighting only five and one half pounds,” which was less than his weight at birth. “His brain was small and swollen and some brain tissue was dead,” said the court.
The boy was not taken to a doctor because the mother did not have health insurance, said the court.
Gaynor, according to one of the cellmates, said she did not believe Coleman killed the child and at one point was heard to say she believed her brother, a drug addict, was responsible for the boy’s death.