Man arrested in 1994 Madison killing, accused of strangling, running over woman with a vehicle

Lula Cunnigan (R) and Willie L. Coleman (L)
Lula Cunnigan (R) and Willie L. Coleman (L)(NBC15)
Published: Nov. 21, 2019 at 2:49 PM CST
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Twenty-five years to the month after a 40-year-old Madison woman was brutally killed, the Madison Police Department says they have arrested the man who did it.

Lula Cunnigan was found dead in the 1600 block of Freeport Rd. early in the morning on Nov. 4, 1994. Her autopsy revealed she had been strangled, possibly sexually assaulted and run over by a vehicle.

On Wednesday, Madison police detectives headed to Marion, Indiana, with a warrant for first-degree reckless homicide. When they arrived, they arrested Willie L. Coleman, 52, who was being held there for an unrelated offense, the police department announced in a news conference on Thursday.

Acting Madison Police Chief Vic Wahl told reporters that police never gave up on the case and "worked more than two decades to solve it."

According to a criminal complaint released Thursday, Madison police caught a break in the case in December of 2015, 20 years after Cunnigan was found dead. The Wisconsin State Crime Lab had found a DNA match in a sexual assault kit, linking Coleman to Cunnigan’s death.

However, Coleman could not be charged immediately, police say, because a lack of proof. The investigation continued for the next four years.

About one year later after the kit was tested, in 2016, Madison police detectives traveled to Maywood, Illinois to interview Coleman and discuss his connection to Cunnigan’s death.

At first Coleman said he did not remember Cunnigan. But when detectives told him DNA linked him to Cunnigan, Coleman admitted he had had sex with her. However, he denied killing her.

In April of 2018, detectives interviewed Coleman for a second time. During the interview Coleman began talking about his daughter’s mother. He said when the mother accused him of being with another woman, he had “almost choked her out,” according to the complaint. He added he would only hurt woman if he was high.

A few days later, Coleman called the detectives over the phone and told them he had remembered a few more things. He admitted that he had not only had sex with Cunnigan but had in fact put his hands around her throat. He expressed concern at the time that he might have been too rough, according to the complaint on Thursday.

A date for a plea hearing for Coleman has not been released, according to online court records.

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