Breaking News Bar

Perry Co. Jurors to Decide if Man Killed His Family

 
updated: 2/10/2011 9:19 AM

Chris Coleman, the Chester, Ill. native who prosecutors say killed his  31-year-old wife and two sons--ages 9 and 11--in their Columbia, Ill. home in May 2009 will be in Perry County in mid-February for his own jury selection. Prosecutors go so far as to believe that during the funeral for Coleman's wife, he allegedly messaged his Florida girlfriend.

Jury selection was moved to Perry County on a granted change of venue motion late last year because of pre-trial publicity and potential prejudice.

The jury of twelve and two or more alternates will be picked from a pool of 300 Perry County residents beginning on Tuesday, February 15. When that process is completed it will be those residents who will be bused daily from Perry County to the trail itself in Monroe County (Waterloo) unless a judge deems it better and easier that arrangements are made for them to be housed together in Waterloo for the trail. Perry County Circuit Clerk said those details are to be worked out next work during a meeting with presiding Judge Milton Wharton.

Again, Coleman will not be tried in Perry County.

Coleman will not come to Perry County for the opening day of jury selection, where the 300 will register and be given preliminary instructions at the makeshift courtroom in the Pinckneyville Knights of Columbus Hall on the town's near north side.

The process will move to the Perry County Courthouse in downtown Pinckneyville when the pool of 300 are broken down into smaller groups of 30 and assessed by the prosecution and defense counsels as to their worthiness.

"We will take care of security," said Perry County Sheriff Keith Kellerman, whose team will work alongside Monroe County Sheriff Dan Kelly--whom Kellerman highly respects--during the two weeks of jury selection. Sheriff Kellerman said during a typical petit jury selection in Perry County two bailiffs would assist with security in the courtroom. The K of C Hall will likely be staffed with his deputies and one or more staff members from the Monroe County Sheriff's Department.

Circuit Clerk Kellerman is to  coordinate the entire jury selection process with the assistance of the Monroe County court system.

During the onset of the jury selection process, Sheriff Keith Kellerman's staff will shoulder the  assignment of locating jurors who may not have properly responded to the jury call or don't show up at the K or C Hall on opening day.

Coleman's trial on three charges of first degree murder is scheduled to begin in March as soon as the jury selection process is complete.

According to information released following the execution of a search warrant at the Coleman home  the southwestern Illinois man --charged with strangling his family to death as they slept-- sent text messages to girlfriend Tara Lintz, who once worked at a strip club in the Sunshine State.

Wife Sheri Coleman, 31,  and her children, 11-year-old Garett and 9-year-old Gavin, were found dead in their  home on May 5, 2009. Authorities have said that all three victims were strangled with some type of wire, rope or cord.

Published reports at the time say Coleman was having an affair with Lintz, who was interviewed by police in St. Petersburg, Fla., in the days following the murders. She admitted to investigators that she had sexually explicit communications with Chris Coleman by phone and email.

 She said their sexual relationship began in November 2008 and the two planned to get married in 2010 after Chris Coleman had divorced his wife.

 Lintz was a high school friend of Sheri Coleman.

According to court papers, Coleman';s mistress, Lintz, claimed Coleman told her the night before the killings that he would be serving his wife with divorce papers the next day. Lintz also told investigators that Coleman assured her by e-mail the next day that he was not the killer and had an alibi.

In the weeks following their deaths, lab tests revealed no drugs or alcohol in the bodies of the victims. The toxicology tests would show whether drugs played any role in the deaths. Part of Coleman's defense will stand on the shoulders of the fact that he was a well-liked, respected and trusted employee of the far-reaching Joyce Meyer Ministries where he worked as a security guard.

He';s charged with murdering his family, but he was also called a "model employee." An AP story at the time indicated employment records say Coleman was "hard working, diligent and very trustworthy."

However, Coleman also took a personality test for the ministry where he described his weaknesses as being withdrawn, moody, tactless, and unaffectionate.

Some of Coleman';s work records -- including evaluations and a resignation letter -- were released by the mega-church, which televises its services in over 25 languages and 200 countries.

Joyce Meyer Ministries tried to  keep the employment documents confidential. Hundreds of pages were released as part of  a wrongful death lawsuit filed by the family of murder victim Sheri Coleman.

During a coroner';s inquest, Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards challenged Coleman';s claims that the killings happened while he exercised at a nearby Missouri gym.

Edwards said the slayings followed months of anonymous threats Coleman insists were sent to his home. Investigators believe Coleman sent them to himself to set up a scenario of a stalker killer.

The investigation went so far as to send authorities scouring nearby hardware, paint and home stores to interview employees about purchases of red spray paint and paint samples.

Edwards also testified that graffiti was found spray-painted on walls at the crime scene and a "rather disturbing" obscene message was found on the bed sheets covering the 9-year-old';s body

He testified that a handwriting expert believed Coleman';s writing matched the statements spray-painted in red in the home.

Coleman told police his wife was alive when he left for the gym. But Chief Edwards has said by the time investigators arrived, it was clear all three victims had been dead for some time, with autopsies indicating they were likely killed between 11 p.m. on May 4 and 3 a.m. on May 5.

Coleman pleaded not guilty.  He remains jailed without bond.

Perry County Circuit Clerk Kim Kellerman's office has its hands full. At the same time she sent out notices to 300 prospective jurors for the Coleman case, her office also sent out notices to another 175 residents for a local Perry County petit jury which begins its work here in March, as well.

 "It's a lot of work, but we're up to it," she said.


(The AP Contributed to This Story)