'We got justice': Blind Rabbit employee's killer gets life in prison

Erron Coleman pleaded guilty to murder, robbery in shooting death of Daniel Rowe

By Vic Micolucci - I-TEAM reporter, anchor, Colette DuChanois - Web producer

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - A man who admitted he pulled the trigger in the 2015 shooting death of a Riverside restaurant worker during a robbery was sentenced Thursday afternoon to life in prison without parole.

Erron Coleman pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery in the slaying of 20-year-old Daniel Rowe, who was killed while taking out the garbage on July 22, 2015, in an alley behind the Blind Rabbit on King Street. 

Coleman, 27, had faced a minimum of 35 years in prison, but the judge said there was no other option than a life sentence. 

Loved ones of Rowe, who left behind a fiance and two children, embraced when Judge Mark Borello handed down the life sentence after hearing emotional testimony from Rowe's parents, Steven and Raelyn Rowe, who asked for that sentence. Borello also heard an admission of guilt and an apology from the killer.

"Facedown on the ground, he was shot in the back of the head by a coward," Rowe's father, Steven Rowe, testified.

Steven Rowe talked about the pain he and his family have endured since the young father of two was murdered nearly three years.

"I love and miss my son every day. I will never hug him, say, 'I love you,'" Steven Rowe said. "I will never see him married, raise his children."

Rowe's mother, Raelyn Rowe, had trouble speaking about her firstborn.

"I will never again hold my child, kiss him or tell him that I love him," she said. "We will forever be missing our heart and soul."

Just feet away in the Duval County courtroom was the man who confessed to the murder.

"I admit that I did murder Daniel Rowe, with the gun in my hand," Coleman said.

As Rowe's family watched, Coleman shared a message.

"I really do want to apologize," Coleman said. "I don't want to try to make no excuse. It happened and I'm very, very, very sorry that it happened like that."

Daniel Rowe's parents, Steven and Raelyn Rowe, in the courtroom.

The defense witnesses who also testified at the sentencing hearing included Coleman's fiancee, his brother and a family friend, Gloria King, who described him as "nonviolent" and "not dangerous."

In the end, Borello decided to go with a life sentence for Coleman.

"We got justice," Steven Rowe told News4Jax after the hearing. "He made a decision, and nothing anybody can say is going to change the decision that he made ... Yes, his family is sentenced to the same thing we are -- a lifetime of not having those we love, that are now lost to us. But the only person responsible for that is Erron Coleman."

Rowe’s family members and friends said they appreciate the community’s support and the help from the Justice Coalition.

"It was the last time that we got to tell everybody who he was, how much he meant," Raelyn Rowe said. "He was a person this world needed."

Rowe's parents also told News4Jax that they are thankful that two people were arrested in their son’s case because they know so many murders are unsolved.

Coleman pleaded guilty in July 2017, after two years of denying his role in the murder.

In addition to admitting he pulled the trigger, Coleman also named a second man, later identified as Devonte Hanford, who helped plan the robbery.

Coleman admitted they targeted Rowe as he came out of the back door of the restaurant. He said Rowe did everything he and Hanford asked, and that when they heard someone coming out of the restaurant, he panicked and shot Rowe in the head.

Coleman admitted he stole Rowe's wallet and fled to the home of his grandmother, who lived close enough to the Riverside restaurant that Coleman could hear the police sirens as officers arrived at the scene.

Investigators said Coleman fired the fatal bullet, but because Hanford was involved in the felony robbery with Coleman, he was also charged with murder, per Florida law.

Earlier this month, Hanford, 23, admitted to his role in Rowe's killing and pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and armed robbery. He was sentenced to more than 20 years in prison

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