CHESTER — Christopher Coleman purchased four graves after the murders of his wife and two sons, one for each of them and one for himself.
On Monday, a Randolph County judge decided that the bodies of Sheri, Garett and Gavin Coleman can be removed from those graves at the Evergreen Cemetery in Chester and reburied in Chicago.
Circuit Judge Richard Brown decided that the interests of convicted murderer Chris Coleman and his parents, the Rev. Ronald and Connie Coleman, were outweighed by Sheri Coleman's mother, Angela DiCiccio and her brother, Mario DiCiccio.
"This is a sad tragedy for all involved," Brown said. "I have sympathy for the DiCiccios and I have sympathy for the Colemans because they were their grandchildren, too."
In his oral ruling, Brown said the DiCiccios "waited long enough" and agreed to allow that the bodies be exhumed.
"This is finally one part of the justice that is being done," said Joe Miglio, Sheri's cousin and godfather. "They are coming home where they belong."
The DiCiccios sought to have the bodies exhumed and moved to Chicago more than a year ago. As required under the law, the DiCiccios filed the exhumation request and notified an imprisoned Christopher Coleman. The law required a 30-day notice before the bodies could be disinterred. On the 29th day, the Colemans obtained a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction.
After Coleman was convicted and sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the murders of Sheri, Garett and Gavin Coleman, the DiCiccios renewed their efforts move their remains to Sheri's hometown of Chicago.
Jack Carey of Belleville, the DiCiccios' lawyer, argued that under a law called the "slayer statute," Christopher Coleman lost his rights to decide about the disposition of the bodies when he was charged with the three murders. His parents lost their rights by extension, he said.
Rich Whitney, the lawyer for the Colemans, stated the Colemans had the same standing as grandparents to Garett and Gavin as Angela DiCiccio and wanted their bodies to remain in Chester, where the Colemans live.
During Monday's hearing, Carey questioned Ron Coleman, who heads Grace Church Ministries in Chester, about his feelings for Sheri Coleman, asking whether he believed Sheri was an "ungodly, worldly woman," who wore her shorts too short, had a tattoo and eloped with Christopher Coleman after discovering she was pregnant.
Ron Coleman disagreed, saying his daughter-in-law was "110 percent a lady."
Sheri, Garett and Gavin Coleman were found strangled in their beds in their Columbia home on May 5, 2009. Prosecutors have said Coleman, a former bodyguard for televangelist Joyce Meyer, killed his family in order to marry his mistress, Tara Lintz, a Florida dog-track waitress and his wife's high school best friend.
Under questioning by Carey, Ron Coleman said he did call Tara Lintz to tell her that Sheri, Garett and Gavin had been murdered.
Angela DiCiccio testified that no one from the Coleman family called her to tell her that her daughter and grandsons were dead. She found out from the police.
Ron and Connie Coleman said they were following their son's wishes to keep the bodies in Chester unless the appeal of his criminal conviction failed. If that happened, he and his parents would then drop their objection and allow the bodies to be moved, said Whitney, the Colemans' lawyer.
"Will you accept that?" Brown asked Carey.
"We will not accept that. They're here in graves purchased by the murderer," Carey responded.