A murder case that captivated the entire region and brought national attention to Monroe County seems like ages ago.
But the central figure in that case has had nothing but time to dwell on every minor detail of his trial. Now, nearly seven years after his conviction, Christopher Coleman is hoping for a return to the Monroe County Courthouse and a new trial.
“This is for real. We’re not going through the motions here,” Coleman’s court-appointed defense attorney Lloyd Cueto Jr. of Belleville told the Republic-Times. “I think Chris is entitled to a new trial.”
Coleman is serving concurrent life sentences in a Wisconsin prison following his conviction for the May 5, 2009, strangulation murders of wife, Sheri, and sons Garett and Gavin, ages 11 and 9, in the family’s home on Robert Drive in Columbia.
A jury bused over to the Monroe County Courthouse from Perry County deliberated the case due to intense media scrutiny in the St. Louis area. Comments made by jurors following the verdict are what drew the attention of Coleman.
The Fifth District Apellate Court in Mt. Vernon upheld the conviction a few years ago, but that didn’t stop Coleman from exhausting every possible legal option.
Coleman, who operates a blog (colemansperspective.com) from prison, filed a lengthy petition for post-conviction relief on his own behalf in 2016 requesting a new trial. No action was taken on Coleman’s pro se petition until a court order was issued requiring a response.
Chief Circuit Court Judge John Baricevic appointed Cueto to represent Coleman and Judge Stephen McGlynn is now presiding over the case.
Cueto was granted time to amend Coleman’s petition, and he filed it Tuesday afternoon at the Monroe County Courthouse in Waterloo.
Key to Coleman’s post-conviction petition is the argument that his rights under the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions were violated due to evidence not admitted at trial but still viewed by the jury that directly impacted the verdict. He also alleges ineffective assistance of legal counsel.
The CBS television series “48 Hours” aired an episode on the Coleman murders, which included an interview with jury foreperson Jonece Pearman.
In the “48 Hours” episode, Pearman said jury deliberations had initially resulted in a 7-5 vote for acquittal, according to Coleman’s filing. But after going through enlarged 8×10 romantic and sexually explicit photographs of Coleman with mistress Tara Lintz, which had certain portions censored, Pearman said small thumbnail-sized photographs on the backs of the photo exhibits that were uncensored still included time and date information. That information was inconsistent with the affair timeline admitted by the defense.
The jury even requested and was granted a magnifying glass during deliberation, presumably to view these thumbnails and time stamps, the filing claims.
“There were 99 exhibits admitted at trial. The only portion of any exhibit that required or could require a magnifying glass for clear and detailed viewing were the small photographs (thumbnails) affixed to Exhibits 27, 28 and 29,” according to the filing.
“Ms. Pearman further stated that it was this solitary issue that convinced her that the defense was lying and that Mr. Coleman was guilty,” the filing states. “Per her recorded statement, she then took it upon herself to convince the remaining jurors that this new evidence was the deciding factor.”
An article from the Republic-Times was also presented as part of this filing. That article quoted juror Kimberly Ferrari as saying the time stamp inconsistency “caused jurors to lose all trust in the defense and the tide turned toward a unanimous guilty verdict.”
‘The jury based their conviction on evidence which was never admitted and for which no foundation was laid,” Coleman’s filing claims.
The petition also claims ineffective assistance of counsel in that Coleman’s attorneys didn’t review some evidence before it was brought to the jury and failed to look into the verdict after the jurors’ public interviews.
Coleman’s trial attorneys offered no evidence to contradict the state’s theory of motive, which was that he was willing to kill his family to preserve employment with Joyce Meyer Ministries rather than divorcing his wife to be with Lintz.
“The cornerstone of this theory was that Joyce Meyer Ministries — as a conservative Christian institution — would not employ an individual who was divorced,” the filing states. “However, what was never introduced into evidence was the fact that Ms. Meyer and her son had both previously been divorced.”
Coleman’s attorneys offered no rebuttal to expert testimony on DNA evidence, the filing also alleges.
Coleman requests that his case be set for an evidentiary hearing on these and other issues addressed in the filing.
“Mr. Coleman contends that the evidence presented and the arguments made in this petition will be testified to in a hearing and so, therefore, based on the arguments of this petition, the court should reverse and remand for a new trial,” the filing states.
Since the prosecutor in the Coleman case, Kris Reitz, has since retired, this filing falls in the lap of current Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann. He offered no comment at this time until he has had time to view the entire filing.
The circuit court has 90 days to examine the petition and determine whether “the petition is frivolous or is patently without merit. If the court determines that the petition is either frivolous or patently without merit, the court must dismiss the petition in a written order. A post-conviction petition is considered frivolous or patently without merit only if the allegations in the petition, taken as true and liberally construed, fail to present the ‘gist of a constitutional claim.’”
To view the entire filing, click here.