In what may finally bring the murder conviction of Chris Coleman to a close, Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann filed a motion last week to dismiss a post conviction petition filed in April on Coleman’s behalf.
Coleman, who was convicted in 2011 for the May 5, 2009 murders of his wife, Sheri, and two young sons, Garret, 11, and Gavin, 9, is serving concurrent life terms. Earlier this year, he filed a petition for post conviction relief which, if granted, would afford him a new trial in the same Monroe County court that convicted him.
Coleman stated in his petition that he is due a new trial based on ineffective counsel, denial of due process and a claim of “actual innocence.”
Hitzemann and Appellate Prosecutor Charles R. Zalar responded with a motion to dismiss that addresses each of those claims.
Coleman’s motion for a new trial and his appeal, which differs from a petition for post conviction relief, were already denied. An appeal is limited to considering information from the original trial. A petition for post conviction relief addresses violations of a defendant’s constitutional rights.
The appellate court in its decision found that “circumstantial evidence of guilt was overwhelming. The court additionally found that when all the contentions of errors were considered, the defendant nonetheless received a fundamentally fair trial,” according to Hitzemann’s motion to dismiss.
To read the entire Motion to Dismiss, click here.
Coleman claims his constitutional right to due process of the law was violated when the jury viewed and considered thumbnails attached to the backs of photos that were not specifically entered into evidence in his trial.
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 initially resulted in a 7-5 vote for acquittal, according to Coleman’s filing. But after viewing thumbnail-sized photographs on the backs of photo exhibits that were uncensored and still included time and date information which was inconsistent with the affair timeline admitted by the defense, Pearman said she was convinced of Coleman’s guilt.
An interview with juror Kimberly Ferrari in the Republic-Times echoed Pearman’s statement.
According to the motion to dismiss, no sworn statement from Pearman or Ferrari are included in Coleman’s petition, and “juror statements to a newspaper and television program are not a substitute for an affidavit.”
The issue of the thumbnails was raised during Coleman’s appeal and the appellate court determined it was inadmissable because no objection to their inclusion was raised during the trial. Additionally, the appellate court determined the totality of evidence in the case was not so closely balanced that the inclusion of the thumbnails alone tipped the scale in favor of a guilty verdict.
The thumbnails in question were attached to the backs of enlarged photos from a trip Coleman and his mistress, Tara Lintz, took to Hawaii. Attached to the front of each photo was a sheet with file system data showing dates the photos were created and modified.
There was also a sheet attached to the back of each photo containing the same types of information. On some of the photos, the dates contradicted each other and even listed dates the images were modified that pre-dated the date they were taken.
“The conflicting dates in the EXIF data create confusion regarding when the photos were taken and dates are clearly unreliable,” the motion to dismiss reads.
The thumbnails on the backs of some of the photos also exposed portions of the body the court ordered to be blacked out due to a sexually explicit nature.
“The exposure of breasts and genitalia certainly came as no shock to the jury,” the motion to dismiss reads. “There was no dispute the defendant was having a lustful affair… The jury was well aware of the content of the blacked out portions of the photos and their exposure so it was not so prejudicial as to deny him the right to a fair trial.”
Coleman’s petition also asserts his 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 divorce his wife to be with Lintz, and that they offered no rebuttal to expert testimony on DNA evidence, the filing also alleges.
The motion to dismiss addresses all of these claims, specifically with the prevailing sentiment being that a defendant is entitled to competent representation, not perfect representation.
Coleman’s attorney, Lloyd Cueto will have the opportunity to respond to this filing before an official hearing is set on the case.
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