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State auctions off murdered woman’s wedding ring

Shemethia Coteat Stanton, 41, was killed in an ambush on 14 February 2020, after which the state of Alabama auctioned off her wedding ring to a man from Missouri who now won’t sell the ring back to the grieving family.

No arrests have been made in the murder, which took place outside Ms Coteat Stanton’s apartment in Hoover, south of Birmingham, Alabama. Police say they have a suspect but not strong enough evidence to prove they were behind the crime.

Ex-husband Phillip Stanton told AL.com that the family is now fighting to get his late ex-wife’s wedding ring back from the man who bought it at a county auction after it was deemed unclaimed property. Mr Stanton told the outlet he offered the man who bought the ring more money than what he paid for it at auction, but that the buyer still won’t sell it back to the family.

“She was murdered by the streets and robbed by the state,” Mr Stanton said. “It’s frustrating.”

Police say it appears that Ms Coteat Stanton was shot four times from behind as she was getting items out of her car, prompting police and the fire department to respond shortly before 7pm on Valentine’s Day last year at The Park at Wellington and Wakefield apartments. She was pronounced dead on the scene at 7.05pm.

Investigators are still trying to determine a motive, but they believe Ms Coteat Stanton was a target and not a random victim.

Daughter Kassidy Stanton found her mother shot several times. She was 17 years old at the time of her mother’s murder.

“I heard the last three shots because I think there were five,” she told AL.com last year. “I was sitting there waiting on it to stop. I heard the tires go off and that’s it. I’m thinking, ‘OK, somebody just got shot and I’m nosy so I’m going to go look.’’

She looked outside and saw her mother’s car but she couldn’t see Ms Coteat Stanton.

“My first instinct was to go look again, double-check because maybe she’s in the breezeway and maybe she’s running from the gunshots,” she said. “I saw her car door open, but I didn’t see her still. At this point, I’m worried because why didn’t she come in the house?”

She ran outside and discovered her mother on the ground.

“I checked her pulse because I’m trained for CPR,’’ the daughter said. “There was no pulse. By that time, the neighbours came out and I was screaming but it was so unreal to me that my mama was laying there.”

“There was no reason for somebody to do something like this to somebody so loving, and so God-fearing,’’ she added. “It just hurt me so bad. I can’t explain it.”

According to Ms Stanton’s sister, Sheneka Coteat, she was seen at Piggly Wiggly in Bluff Park at 6.53pm where there was a security guard and a store employee. She was dead 12 minutes later.

“She was pronounced dead at 7.05pm – that’s how quick it happened,” the sister said last year, AL.com reported.

While her husband and Ms Coteat Stanton were legally divorced, they had remained close to each other and the children and the father carried on living in the family’s apartment following the shooting in February 2020.

Police held on to some of Ms Coteat Stanton’s belongings after her death to look for evidence, but when the items were given back to the family, they found that the wedding ring was missing.

“That’s when we started looking for it,” Mr Stanton said. “I was thinking this would be a break in the case. I’m calling the detectives, asking can we check pawn shops?”

He was thinking that whoever sold the ring could be a suspect.

“She never stopped wearing the wedding ring,’’ Mr Stanton told AL.com. “We were together since high school, 30 something years, and married for 18. We had three kids together.”

Mr Stanton discovered that the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office hadn’t returned her wedding ring or Apple Watch. After inquiring about the ring with the office, he was told that it had been sold at a county auction on 28 December 2020.

Chief Deputy Coroner Bill Yates told AL.com: “We attempted to contact the only next of kin we knew of, [Ms Coteat Stanton’s son], after autopsy to notify him of the personal property and weren’t able to get him.”

Mr Stanton was no longer the next of kin because of the divorce. Authorities contacted Phillip Stanton Jr, but he has said that he doesn’t remember getting a call about the belongings.

Alabama state law stipulates that any unclaimed property is given to the county treasurer after 30 days, who then sells it at an auction with the funds going to the county’s general fund. Deputy Coroner Yates said he thinks this is a short period, which is why they held on to the items for 10 months. The law also provides for reimbursements to be issued if an item is sold. Mr Stanton’s started the process in the hope of using the funds to buy the ring back and hand it on to his children.

The coroner put Mr Stanton in contact with the Missouri man who had bought the “lot” including the ring at the online auction.

“This office tried to assist in brokering a deal between the two parties. I wrote a letter to the winning bidder explaining the nature of the death, and the history of item, the significance of it, and encouraged them to find a way so that the family could get this item back,’’ the coroner said. “It appears that was happening, and then I just found out that he’s for some reason changed his mind.

“It’s unfortunate,’’ he added. “I think Mr Stanton wishes we had done more to get a hold of family and I can see that, and I will definitely keep that in mind in the future. We tried, and we documented it.”

Mr Stanton contacted the buyer, Harold Blaker, 85, from Kearney, Missouri, last month.

“I told him the situation and he said, ‘that’s fine,’ and that he would hold it for me,’’ Mr Stanton said. “I told him as soon as we got the money, we’d be sending it to him.”

Mr Blaker told Mr Stanton that he had paid $1,700 for a number of items, including the ring. Mr Stanton offered to pay $2,000 for just the ring, using $1,400 of the reimbursement money and the rest from his own funds.

When Mr Stanton told Mr Blaker that the check was about to be sent, the 85-year-old said he no longer wanted to sell.

“He told me it wasn’t going to do it,’’ Mr Stanton said. “I asked him, ‘Sir, have you ever been married?’ and he said, ‘Yes, three times.’’’

Mr Blaker told AL.com: “This fella was wanting to buy the ring back. I bought it fair and square. He thinks I should let him have and him send me the money. I don’t trust anybody anymore. I’ve been screwed around on deals like this.”

“He was preying on my sympathy I guess and said, ‘Well that was my wife’s wedding ring,’’’ Mr Blaker said. “I said, ‘Well, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t want to get rid of anything.’’

“I just don’t feel comfortable putting a $2,000 ring in the mailbox and hoping somebody’s going to send me some money,’’ he said. “That’s just the way it is.”

“I bought it and paid for it,’’ he added. “I’m not obligated to him at all. I’m sorry that he got involved in a murder thing, but that’s beyond my control. I’m just not going to do that.”

“I don’t understand why they want to keep the ring,’’ Mr Stanton told AL.com. “I’ll just keep praying.”