Judge denies DeKalb mom’s request to see 2 kids who survived fire

A DeKalb County judge Thursday denied a mother’s request to visit her two remaining children after being charged with murdering three others who died in a fire when authorities say she left them at home unattended.

Prosecutor Mirna Andrews also told the court the mother, Rockell Coleman, had been warned her children were starting fires in the house and still left them unattended.

“They were lighting leaves in a pan to get warm while the mother was at a warm restaurant eating dinner with friends,” Andrews said. “There was no heat, no electricity in that house….We have statements from the neighbors of the children begging for food.”

Coleman, 28, was charged with murder and child cruelty after three of her boys — Jabari, 3, Preston, 4 and Javis, 10 — died from injuries they suffered in a house fire Dec. 12.

Superior Court Judge Gregory Adams made the decision about visitation after Andrews argued the two children needed to be shielded because they’re witnesses in the criminal case and Coleman might influence their testimony.

Coleman told police she was working handling out fliers for a tax-preparation service when the fire occurred about 11 p.m. at her home on Misty Valley Road near Decatur. She said her roommate was supposed to be with the five brothers while she worked. Her release from jail came in time for her to attend her sons’ funeral.

Andrews, the prosecutor, contended Coleman lied about working when the disaster struck. But Coleman’s lawyers said work records indicated Coleman was indeed at work; and the roommate told a mutual friend she had to leave the children to to go to a paying babysitting job, Pinckney said.

The roommate has been unavailable for interviews, said Daryl Queen, a defense attorney for Coleman. “Nobody has spoken to her,” he said. “She is in the wind.”

Coleman faces five counts of felony child cruelty and three counts of felony murder, which carries a mandatory life sentence. The murder charge is based on the law that makes a death murder if it arises from a felony, in this case child cruelty, said DeKalb Police Captain Steve Fore.

Coleman left the courtroom in tears Thursday after hearing Andrews outline a series of vignettes described by neighbors that she said showed her unfit, including one of her babies crawling down the street alone in a diaper.

Queen contended the claim of unfit parenting was overblown and disputed by the findings of state social workers who ruled Coleman’s care presented little risk to her children. “Let’s be realistic here, DFACS closed the case,” he said.

State records show that in June 2013, the state Division of Family and Child Services got a complaint that the children were repeatedly left home alone with inadequate food, according to a review of the records by Channel 2 Action News and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Case workers found the complaint unsubstantiated but required Coleman to undergo parenting classes.

In April, case workers discovered she was not complying, Channel 2 reported, and asked a judge to remove the children.

The judge denied the request saying she did not see the harm to the children. In June social workers closed the case deeming Coleman a low risk, according to the records.