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Serial killer Alton Coleman left with a 9-year-old Wisconsin...

By SUSAN KUCZKA

WAUKEGAN, Ill. -- Serial killer Alton Coleman left with a 9-year-old Wisconsin girl ostensibly to pick up a stereo more than two years ago and never returned, the child's mother has testified.

Coleman, 31, is accused of killing Vernita Wheat, 9, of Kenosha in what authorities say was a three-month Midwest crime spree in 1984.

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Eight people died before Coleman and his girlfriend accomplice, Debra Brown, were arrested in Evanston, Ill. Coleman already has received the death penalty in Indiana and Ohio. Brown also has been sentenced to death.

The mother, Juanita Wheat, said Coleman asked her to go with him to pick up the stereo after he and Vernita returned from a carnival in May 1984.

When she declined, he then asked if Vernita could go, the mother testified Wednesday at Coleman's trial.

'He said, 'I swear I'll bring her right back,' and I haven't seen my child since,' Wheat said.

When she identified Coleman as the man who left with her daughter, she gave him a lengthy stare.

Coleman, who is representing himself in the trial, kept cross-examination of the prosecution's nine witnesses short. While he made objections to the identification of some photos and other pieces of evidence, he seldom protested the line of questioning prosecutors used.

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Cab driver Keith Hach said he picked up Coleman and Vernita at a Kenosha tavern. He said Coleman initially wanted to go to Zion to pick up a car and stereo, then asked Hach to take him to Waukegan instead.

Hach said the child slept for much of the trip until they were dropped off in a desolate area of town near the abandoned building where her body later was found.

In opening statements, Lake County Assistant State's Attorney Matthew Chancey said Coleman gave Wheat a false name and address and lied to her.

'For three weeks, Juanita Wheat hoped for a miracle. She hoped her little girl would be found alive,' Chancey said.

Coleman told the jury of seven women and five men the prosecutors would fail to prove he was the killer.

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