Editorials

New trial may be warranted for man convicted of murdering wife, two sons

Numerous graphic and sexually explicit texts, emails, photographs and videos exchanged between Chris Coleman and Tara Lintz, similar to this photo but more sexually explicit, were presented as evidence. The  uncensored “thumbnail” photos made it back to the jury deliberations room on the back of a foam board. The thumbnail images included uncensored imagery as well as date and time stamps and other data for which no evidence or testimony had been presented.
Numerous graphic and sexually explicit texts, emails, photographs and videos exchanged between Chris Coleman and Tara Lintz, similar to this photo but more sexually explicit, were presented as evidence. The uncensored “thumbnail” photos made it back to the jury deliberations room on the back of a foam board. The thumbnail images included uncensored imagery as well as date and time stamps and other data for which no evidence or testimony had been presented.

Chris Coleman is part of an elite group, those roundly reviled because they murdered their children.

He was already in that small, infamous group with Paula Sims, who claimed both her baby girls were taken by masked intruders years apart. The reality was she drowned both girls in their baths while leaving her baby boy alone.

Coleman was convicted of strangling his wife, Sherri, and their boys Garrett, 11, and Gavin, 9, on May 5, 2009. He, too, fabricated a story about intruders who left red, spray-painted graffiti inside their Columbia home.

The reality was he killed them to be with his mistress, who was his wife's best friend in high school.

Evidence was convincing, with his cell phone pings betraying his movements, his motive to be with his girlfriend while keeping his money and his job with a televangelist, and the forensic evidence that his family was murdered hours before he left their home.

Sherri's cousin, attorney Enrico Mirabelli, best summed up the case against Coleman: "I've always said there are three people who could have done this: Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and Chris Coleman. Obviously, the first two don't exist."

Still, jurors were split until they spotted some evidence that the judge tried to keep out. Judge Milton Wharton didn't want the explicit photos Coleman took with his girlfriend shown unless their genitals were covered by black boxes. He was worried about jurors being prejudiced by raw photos of adultery.

But jurors found small copies of four explicit images on the back of an evidence display. They even asked for a magnifying glass so they could see the images and noted the camera data showed they were taken well before Coleman said he started the affair.

That turned the tide, and jurors voted to convict Coleman.

The defense never had a chance to refute that photo evidence. No one had a chance to say whether that camera data was right or wrong.

Coleman is appealing, and he may well win a new trial. A second conviction is far from guaranteed.

Wharton is retired, so there would be a new judge. Monroe County has a new prosecutor, who must absorb the boxes and boxes of evidence. The Columbia police chief resigned amid controversy, damaging his credibility.

Besides the photos, Coleman's defense is attacking the evidence about the time of death. It will question how he could have avoided any traces of the red spray paint and attack the theory that a divorce would have cost Coleman his job.

As much we may believe Coleman did it and deserves to spend three lifetimes in prison, the conviction must be clean. Criminal justice for more than 200 years has followed English jurist William Blackstone's formulation: "It is better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer."

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