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Madison police arrest suspect in woman’s 1994 death

MADISON (WKOW) — Dane County Court records show Madison police arrested a 52-year-old man in Indiana for reckless homicide Wednesday in connection with a woman’s death in Madison twenty-five years ago.

Willie Coleman

Records show authorities allege Willie Coleman choked 40-year old Lula Cunnigan and ran over her with a vehicle.  Records state her body was found on Freeport Road on Nov. 4, 1994.  Records say police also suspected Coleman sexually assaulted the victim.

A major break came in December of 2015 when the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory learned of a CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) DNA match, linking Coleman to the case, according to police.  A criminal complaint states in 2017, technicians at the state crime lab matched more DNA from Cunnigan’s sweater and other places to Coleman.

Records state Coleman was interviewed by Madison Police detectives at least two times between the time of the state crime lab’s initial, 2015 DNA discovery and April of this year.

“Simply having that hit from 2015 doesn’t end the investigation or end the story,”  Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl said Thursday at a news conference.  “And obviously there’s a lot more investigative steps that need to happen during that time period to get us to where we are today.”

Authorities say Coleman claimed to be under the influence of marijuana at the time of his encounter with Cunnigan.  Court records state a pathologist believed the sexual encounter between Coleman and Cunnigan was consensual.

The criminal complaint notes a key development in April, when Coleman contacted authorities and said he was “…concerned that he might have been too rough with her” during the sexual encounter.

Wahl says he was a rookie patrol officer at the time of the killing and remembers the department’s intense response to try to solve the case.  “It’s not every day that any police department is able to make an arrest in a 25 year old homicide, so it’s something that I think certainly is impactful on us as an agency, and obviously is very impactful for the family,”  Wahl says.

Wahl says Cunnigan still has family members living in Madison.  Dane County District Attorney Ismael Ozanne says Coleman lives in Maywood, Illinois. At the time of the killing twenty-five years ago, Coleman lived on Madison’s Allied Drive.  Online records indicate he was probation for theft at the time of Cunnigan’s death.

Court records show Coleman continues to blame another man for potentially driving a van over the victim.

The next step for authorities will be to attempt to extradite the jailed Coleman from Marion, Indiana to Dane County.

Courtney Terlecki

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