Judge Stephen McGlynn decided Thursday during a hearing held remotely that he would grant the state’s motion to dismiss the remainder of arguments made in convicted murderer Christopher Coleman’s post-conviction relief petition.
Coleman filed that petition in April 2018, arguing he is due a new trial because of a violation of his constitutional rights, ineffective counsel and a claim of “actual innocence.”
McGlynn ruled in an April 2019 evidentiary hearing that metadata attached to the backs of four photographs of Coleman and his mistress, Tara Lintz, was not extraneous and therefore could not be considered prejudicial or a violation of Coleman’s constitutional rights.
At the time, however, McGlynn indicated he wanted another hearing on the ineffective counsel claim. He decided no further hearings were needed on that and other matters Thursday.
“With respect to those remaining issues raised in the initial petition, I don’t think any of those remaining issues justify a third stage hearing,” McGlynn said. “The record is pretty clear on those issues.”
Coleman is currently serving three concurrent life sentences in the Wisconsin Department of Corrections after being convicted in 2011 of the May 5, 2009 murders of his wife, Sheri, and two sons, Garret, 11, and Gavin, 9, in Columbia.
“I couldn’t be more satisfied with the ruling,” Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann said. “After the ruling, I informed the officers and investigators that had been involved in the case, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Throughout this process, their dedication to justice for Sheri, Garett and Gavin was evident and impressive.”
Earlier this month, McGlynn granted the latest motion by Coleman to represent himself for the remainder of the proceedings. Coleman’s most recent attorney, Lloyd Cueto, remained on the case as stand-by counsel.
The purpose of Thursday’s hearing was to narrow down remaining issues in the case and schedule remaining evidentiary hearings.
That included a motion by Coleman for McGlynn to reconsider his prior ruling about the metadata.
Metadata is information about other data. In this case, it includes items such as dates when photographs were taken or modified that seem to contrast the timeline the defense outlined at trial for Coleman’s affair with Lintz.
Coleman argued that the jury seeing that information was a violation of his right to due process because he was not confronted with it and given a chance to refute it.
Jurors bused in from Perry County for the 2011 trial said afterward that inconsistencies between the timestamps and the timeline for Coleman’s affair presented at trial turned the tide toward a unanimous guilty verdict.
McGlynn determined the metadata was always present on the back of photographs admitted into evidence during Coleman’s original trial and therefore did not violate Coleman’s rights.
McGlynn did not change his mind on that.
In the matter of ineffective counsel, Coleman argued his lawyers should have objected to the inclusion of metadata and developed an argument regarding fingerprints found at the scene of the murders and on a digital video recorder faceplate found along the side of the highway.
Those fingerprints, along with a footprint inside the Coleman house where Sheri, Garret and Gavin were killed, did not match Coleman’s.
McGlynn said Coleman’s lawyers also considered Coleman’s theory there was someone stalking him who broke into his house and killed his family.
“It boils down to trial strategy of counsel,” he said.
“It’s obvious they gave serious consideration (to that evidence),” McGlynn added. “They argued that the lack of evidence and the state’s burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt the defendant’s guilt showed a weak link or that Mr. Coleman could not have been the killer.”
McGlynn further ruled Coleman’s claim of actual innocence is “not supported by the necessary affidavits” and therefore will not advance.
While the matter may seem over, it is not. McGlynn wants another hearing in three weeks to decide if Coleman should be given all files from this case in order to better appeal the decision.
“Moving forward to appeal this decision, I have never had a chance to review the (documents) myself, in all the 11-plus years, to see exactly what’s there and what’s not,” Coleman said before holding up a letter from his prison’s warden saying it would be OK for him to receive and review the files.
Cueto, who currently has physical copies of all those files, said he will determine a plan to send the many boxes of documents to Coleman in prison if McGlynn decides that is permissible.
McGlynn’s decision to dismiss Coleman’s petition can be appealed to the Fifth District Appellate Court.