District Attorney Office Press Release
On Wednesday, January 11, a Henderson County jury sentenced Manuel Clerkley, 41, of Palestine, to Life in the penitentiary for a June 9th, 2009 early morning crash that left his 21 year-old niece and mother of two, Michelle Coaster, dead. The crash occurred shortly before 9 a.m., in the 600 block of South Palestine Street near the intersection of Ben Bent Drive. Athens Police Department reports stated Clerkley was northbound in a 1994 Plymouth Acclaim that went out of control and crossed the southbound lanes before leaving the roadway and colliding head-on with a tree.
A woman, who stopped at the traffic signal at Ben Belt and South Palestine, reportedly saw the accident and described it to police.
Coaster died at East Texas Medical Center, Athens a few hours after the wreck. Clerkley was taken to the trauma unit of East Texas Medical Center, Tyler where he was treated and released later in the week.
During the trial, the jury heard a recorded statement taken by Athens Detective Bill Carlow of Clerkley a few days after the crash. In his statement, Clerkley admitted to Carlow that he had been up partying with family the night before. He indicated that he had three or four beers and had smoked crack cocaine at around 4 a.m. Clerkley, who also testified at the trial, also stated that he was driving from Palestine to Athens to meet with his parole officer when the crash occurred.
Clerkley had only been out of the penitentiary and on parole for two months when the crash occurred. District Attorney Scott McKee cross-examined Clerkley extensively about his actions the morning prior to the crash and his extensive criminal history.
Dallas County Medical Examiner, Dr. Chester Gwen testified from questioning by Assistant District Attorney Bridgett Bateman about the extensive injuries Coaster received including a severely lacerated liver and kidney as well as multiple fractures and blunt force trauma.
In his closing arguments to the jury, McKee highlighted Clerkely’s extensive criminal history as well as the fact that the crash occurred during a Monday morning rush hour prior to asking them to sentence Clerkley to life.
“This was a very tragic case all the way around.” Said McKee. “Asking for a life sentence is something I take very seriously. With five prior sentences to prison and the facts and circumstances surrounding this case, I just didn’t see any other option. Apparently the jury agreed with me.” McKee thanked Deputy Chad Walker and Athens Corporal Jason Bosher as well as Detective Bill Carlow for their work on the case.
Since this isn’t a capital murder sentence of life, Clerkley will eligible for parole after he serves 30 years.