Metro-East News

Coleman's alibi is disputed; expert says family died hours before he left the house

On the night before his family was strangled, Chris Coleman told his Florida girlfriend that his wife would receive divorce papers the next day, according to testimony Wednesday morning in Monroe County Court.

And renowned forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden put the time of death for murder victims Sheri Coleman, 31, and the couple's sons, Gavin, 9, and Garett, 11, at between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m. -- well before the time Chris Coleman said he left for a gym workout.

Images from a surveillance camera mounted right across the street from the Coleman home, at the house of Columbia Police Detective Justin Barlow, one of the investigators on the triple murder, showed Coleman leaving at 5:43 a.m. May 5.

"The expert said that it was not possible for them to be alive at 5:45 a.m.," said Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards, the only witness to testify at Coleman's preliminary hearing Wednesday morning.

Coleman, 32, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the ligature strangulations of his wife and sons. He remains in the Monroe County Jail without bail.

Chris Coleman told police in a lengthy interview after the murders that he and his wife had a good marriage, but encountered marital problems in 2008 and received marriage counseling, Edwards testified.

Coleman later admitted to police that he was having an affair with one of his wife's friends, identified in court documents as Tara Lintz of St. Petersburg, Fla. Lintz and Coleman had at least one credit card in both their names that was used to pay for airfare for Lintz to accompany Coleman on trips for Joyce Meyer Ministries, where Coleman worked as a security supervisor.

Lintz and Coleman exchanged conversations about "body parts" that "his wife would not be very happy about," Coleman told police during the interview. The couple began a relationship Nov. 5 and planned to be married in January 2010. Lintz was looking for work and a home to share with Chris Coleman in the St. Louis area, Edwards testified.

The couple was also planning to take a cruise together in August.

Edwards also testified that the first alleged threat to the Coleman family reported by Chris Coleman came Nov. 14 to his work e-mail. Detectives later discovered the e-mail was created on Coleman's Meyer Ministries-issued laptop and sent through the laptop's air card.

Other type-written, hand-delivered threats directed at the Coleman family were delivered to the mailbox at their home Jan. 2 and April 27 with the message, "Your worst nightmare is about to happen."

Evidence gathered by the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis included routine documents written by Chris Coleman that had the same misspelling of the word "opportunity" noted in an anonymous threatening letter left in the Coleman family's mailbox.

Lintz told police that during a phone conversation the night before the murders, Coleman told her his wife would receive divorce papers the next day -- the day the bodies were found.

Edwards testified Joyce Meyer Ministries did not employ people who get divorced; Meyer spokesman Roby Walker previously told reporters that policy wasn't in place.

Lintz also told police that she and Chris Coleman exchanged sexually graphic videos and messages, Edwards said.

On May 5, Barlow, who lived across the street from Coleman, received a cell phone call from him, asking that he check on Coleman's family because Coleman couldn't reach them, Edwards said.

Barlow called for an additional officer, Jason Donjon, then got dressed and walked across the street, Edwards said. They discovered the open basement window and crawled through.

They found threatening messages spray-painted in the house in red paint.

Barlow discovered Garett first, Edwards said. His bed had red spray paint on it. Donjon discovered Sheri Coleman. Edwards said the sheet that covered Gavin was spray painted with an obscenity.

Emergency medical personnel were called to the scene and Chris Coleman was loaded into the ambulance with the chaplain for the Columbia police.

The chaplain reported seeing an abrasion on Coleman's forearm and asked how it happened, and he told the chaplain he didn't know, Edwards said. He later told his father, Ronald Coleman, minister of Grace Church Ministries in Chester, that he got the injury punching a gurney after learning of his family's deaths.

The chaplain left when Coleman's relatives and co-workers began to arrive, Edwards said.

Police also noted the video surveillance cameras inside the Coleman's home were operational, but Edwards said the digital video recorder used to save the images was missing. Police discovered a "face plate" to a Digital Video Recorder in the westbound lane of Interstate 255 near the base of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge -- the same route Coleman would have taken to get to the south St. Louis County gym the morning of the murders.

After hearing the evidence, Monroe County Circuit Judge Dennis Doyle found there was probable cause for Coleman to stand trial.

Father and son team William Margulis and Art Margulis, Coleman's attorneys, entered a not guilty plea on Coleman's behalf and waived the reading of the charge.

William Margulis asked the trial be delayed to allow his father and him to pursue certification through the Illinois Capital Litigation Bar that would allow them to continue to represent Coleman if State's Attorney Kris Reitz decides to pursue the death penalty. Reitz has 120 days to do so.

The next hearing in the case is set for Aug. 26.

Ronald and Connie Coleman, Chris Coleman's parents, attended the hearing, but didn't talk to reporters.

Mario Weiss, Sheri's brother and Garett and Gavin's uncle, attended the hearing, along with Sheri's godfather Joe Miglio, hearing the details of their deaths.

"It was extremely emotional. I felt a thousand different emotions," Weiss said afterward. "I didn't want to disrespect the judge by vomiting in court."