Athens sexual assault victim questions attacker's sentence length

The fear of early release is what led sexual assault survivor Teresa Martin to send WAAY 31 a handwritten letter explaining her case and asking reporters to look into the status of her attacker, since she could not get answers from officials.

Posted: Oct 20, 2021 5:52 PM
Updated: Oct 20, 2021 7:00 PM

The high-profile case involving the murder of Sgt. Nick Risner at the hands of a man who was released early from prison on good behavior has some crime victims scrambling to find out the status of their attackers.

The fear of early release is what led sexual assault survivor Teresa Martin to send WAAY 31's newsroom a handwritten letter explaining the details of her case and asking reporters to look into the status of her attacker. She said she couldn't get answers from officials.

And what WAAY 31 uncovered wasn't what Martin believed to be the plea deal she agreed to in 2018.

Billy Joe Coleman was linked to Martin's attack inside her home from a DNA match. Martin said she agreed to a plea deal to avoid having to go through a lengthy trial, and she believed the result would be a 20-year prison sentence for Coleman.

On Wednesday, WAAY 31 confirmed Coleman will actually only serve five years of that sentence. His release date is currently set for June 2023, a shock to Martin.

The Limestone County District Attorney's Office confirmed the plea deal and said if Coleman has bad behavior during his prison sentence, they will revoke the probation and release. He would serve the remaining time of his full 20-year sentence.

Martin said this was for an attack that had her begging for her life. During the random home invasion, Martin said she was able to dial 911 when she heard a noise, but before she knew what to think, a man was on top of her, placing a pillow over her face.

“He told the investigators his intent was to rape, rob and kill me," Martin said. “At one point during the attack, he moved the covers over and saw on my phone that 911 had been trying to call me, and that’s when he got startled."

Martin's attack was not Coleman's first violent crime, according to court records. Coleman was sentenced to 20 years in prison in the 1980s. The state database shows Coleman was convicted of first-degree sodomy and first-degree sexual abuse against a 3-year-old girl. He was convicted in August 1986.

When Martin was attacked, Coleman was out of prison and a registered sex offender in Alabama.

“He attempted to kill me that night, and the next time he gets out, he will kill his victim, without a doubt," Martin said.

Martin said the state has promised they will send her a letter alerting her to Coleman's release. Even though she has moved to a new home since the attack, this promise does little to calm her fears.

“It’s the victim that gets the life sentence," she said. "They’re always looking over their shoulder."

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