Chris Coleman

It appears I have gotten to another section of my list that has several spousal murders one right after another.  I have to admit that these are not the cases that I find most interesting.  Everyone, including perpetrators, know that the first place investigators look is at the spouse or significant other.  Few are smart enough to pull it off without questions.  Of course there have been a few that I have blogged about that have been acquitted of murdering their spouse.  Maybe they are guilty, or maybe the investigators who know the perpetrators is almost always someone closest to the victim had tunnel vision.  In the end it always comes down to what Jamie Foxx said in Law Abiding Citizen, "It's not what you know, it's what you can prove."

It is not unusual when I am doing research on a case to find websites that are devoted to the idea that the convicted murderer is innocent.  This case was no exception. However, I think the appeals court nearly said it best when they said this case had "overwhelming evidence" pointing to Chris Coleman's guilt.  This is important in appeals because while someone will argue ineffective counsel or an unfair trial it is the job of the Appeals Court, not just to decide if the defendant is correct in their assumption, it is also their job to decide that even if it was true what the defendant is now alleging what affect that would have against the totality of the evidence in the case.  Someone may in fact have ineffective counsel, as seems to always be the fall back on appeals, or had something entered in the trial that maybe should not have but they have to decide if that error, if they believe there was one, would have made a difference in the outcome of the jury. Some argue that it should not matter, that an error is an error, but if that was the case then we may as well not have a justice system because they would go bankrupt from all of the cases sent back.  

On May 5, 2009 Justin Barlow, a Columbia Illinois police officer and neighbor to Chris Coleman, received a phone call from Chris about 6:45 in the morning.  Barlow would say that while he did know Chris and they lived across the street from each other they were not really close with each other.  Barlow knew that the Coleman's had been supposedly getting threats through email to Coleman's employer, televangelist Joyce Meyer, but also in their mailbox.  He had offered to either install a security camera on the side of his house pointing to the Coleman mailbox, or maybe he already had one and just turned it in that direction.  Beyond that, there was not much of a relationship between the two families.  So when he got a call from Coleman in the early morning asking him to go check on his family because his wife, Sheri, was not answering the phone Barlow thought it a bit odd.  Coleman even said that he was on the way home from the gym and would be there in about five minutes or so but still asked Barlow to check.  

While Barlow got dressed he called in the report so that there would be something on record.  A fellow officer met him at the home.  The front of the home looked fine but no one answered the door.  In the back they found an open window with the screen out. The officers would go inside the home and knew something was wrong.  In red paint in the kitchen there was writing on the walls.  One comment said "Punished," while another said "I am always watching."  The officers went upstairs and in each of the three bedrooms they would find the bodies of thirty-one year old Sheri, her eleven year old son Garett and her nine year old son, Gavin.  All had been strangled in their beds.

About ten minutes after Coleman had called Barlow, and the officers inside had called for another officer after seeing the writing Coleman would pull up in his driveway.  He would meet the new officer at the scene and was asked to stay outside while the officer went to assist his co-workers inside.  When the officers emerged from the home Coleman was outside waiting.  He was told that his family was dead.  Officers would testify later that Coleman never asked what had happened to his family.  Immediately Coleman would sit on the front porch, cry and then call his father.

Later while an ambulance had been on the scene a witness noticed that Coleman was sitting on the back (I am uncertain as to his reasons) and Coleman had openly commented while looking at his arm that he wondered where the red marks he saw had come from. The witness observed Coleman then banging that arm on the gurney in the ambulance. When Coleman was later interviewed by officers and asked about those marks he would comment that they must have come from the gurney.  

Chris Coleman, the son of two ministers, had met Sheri when he was in the Marines and she was an MP for the Air Force and they happened to be at the same training facility.  It appears that Chris took Sheri home to meet his parents but only briefly because his parents claim a few hours later the couple left as Chris said he was taking Sheri to her home a few hours away closer to Chicago.  His father would say that the following day Chris had called them and told them that he and Sheri had gotten married.  He would later believe that it was because Sheri was already pregnant. It does not appear, as well as it has been noted by friends, that Chris' parents never seemed to accept Sheri.  His father has made some very interesting quotes to the media regarding Sheri since the murders.  He has commented that Sheri was a "wild" girl who wore inappropriate clothing and he never thought Chris would be involved with "someone like her."  He has also said that Sheri complained that Chris was moody and was not affectionate and that she never complimented him.  He would use these as reasons to explain why his son was having an affair at the time his daughter in law and two grandsons were murdered.  As I said, interesting comments from someone, especially a minister.  

Obviously the Coleman home would be sealed off as a crime scene and the home was searched.  Chris Coleman had immediately brought up the issue of the threats his family had received and the officers were looking into them.  The investigators seized guns, latex gloves, any string or cord that could have been used in the strangulations, cell phones and even two laptop computers.  Coleman would tell investigators that the first threatening email he had received was on November 14, 2008.  It had come to his work email.  Coleman was the lead security guard for televangelist Joyce Meyer and he had shown the email to his employer.  The police had been notified.  While the email contained comments against Joyce Meyer and her ministry, the writer proclaimed that it was the Coleman family that would pay for her "sins."  There had apparently been a few more emails and then at least one note left in the Coleman mailbox.  The last had been received on April 27th, eight days before the murders.  

It did not take authorities long to find out that that not only had the emails come from Chris' computer.  They also learned that the address it had come from (destroychris@gmail.com) had also been created on that same laptop.  Further examination showed that misspellings in the emails and letters matched many misspellings in work related items written by Chris himself.  The most notable and most talked about was the word opportunities which was consistently spelled "oppurtunities" throughout the threatening letters as well as Chris' personal and work items.  

At this point the investigators also knew that Chris had a girlfriend who lived in Florida by the name of Tara Lintz. There were several interesting things about Tara and while investigators in Illinois were interviewing Chris, investigators in Florida were talking to Tara at the exact same time.  Tara had actually been best friends with Sheri when the two were in high school and Chris had met her through his wife.  Their phones had many explicit pictures and videos of the two.  There were also multiple text messages between the two expressing their love.  They had talked about getting married in January of 2010 but of course in order to do so Chris had to get a divorce.  They had even gone as far as named a future child they planned to have.  Tara would tell investigators that Chris had told her that on May 4th he was presenting Sheri with divorce papers but later that night told her that due to some sort of "typo" he was not doing it until the next day.  Tara claimed that Chris had told her that the marriage was failing and that he was no longer sleeping in the same bed as Sheri and had taken to sleeping on the couch in the basement.  Tara probably did not like the idea when it came out that not only had Chris told investigators that he had slept next to his wife the night before she was found murder but that she was found naked.  Some say this may have fed into her ire of being "duped" by Chris and have accused her of just wanting revenge, although there is no proof of this.

For his part Chris had claimed that on the morning of the murders he had gotten up out of bed, gotten dressed and had left for the gym.  He would claim, and in fact his neighbors camera that faced his house proved, that he left the home about 5:45 am.  He would claim that he had attempted to call Sheri from the driveway as he was pulling out to wake her so she could get up and start her day that would include preparing the boys for school.  Investigators, and others, found this odd.  First, Chris spent a lot of time away from home for his job so Sheri would have been in the habit of waking herself.  Secondly, there was not record that this was a pattern that they had engaged in.  But, thirdly, and most importantly, investigators wondered why if he needed to wake Sheri up, he did not do so before he walked out the door rather than as he was pulling out of the driveway as he claimed.  He then said that he went to the gym and while there had attempted at least one more time, leaving a message on her voicemail.  Finally, as he was returning home, just an hour after he left the home in the first place and supposedly doing a work out, and still being unable to reach Sheri he had called the neighbor.  All of this seemed unusual to the investigators, one of which was Justin Barlow, the neighbor he had called.  They would also discover through cell phone tracking that while he had told Barlow he was just five minutes away from the home that he had actually passed his exit on the highway and driven further than needed before apparently turning around and heading to the house. This would account as to why his arrival to the home bordered on more like ten minutes than the five predicted.

Investigators felt they had all they needed to arrest and charge Chris Coleman with the murder of their family to which they did, but of course the investigation would continue. What they would find would only make their case stronger and lead the appeals court to using that phrase..... overwhelming evidence. 

One of the more crucial things against Coleman was the fact that the original pathologist, as well as an independent pathologist, both would say that the time of death had occurred before Chris Coleman ever left the house that morning.  There was never a dispute on that it seemed with any expert witnesses.  Chris Coleman said he left the home, and a video camera proved it, at 5:45 am.  Due to the temperature and condition of the body the latest prediction was 5:00 but could have been between 11:00 pm and that time.  Both said that to narrow the time down even further the time of death seemed closer to 3:00 am. Coleman would later not necessarily dispute the time frame but claim that his ineffective counsel at trial had failed to put up a witness to dispute this finding and of course would claim then that they had found someone to take their position.

Forensics were not a lot of help in this case.  It appears that Sheri did have DNA under her nails but only a partial profile could be made.  While it did not exclude Chris Coleman, it was not specific enough to generate the large numbers we like to see in DNA.  But, to be fair, I am unsure that even if it had been conclusive that it would have mattered.  This was her husband, he lived in the home, it would be reasonable to believe she could have his DNA on her, even under her nails.  The more important thing that forensics proved was what it did not show, there was no stranger DNA found in the home. 

Then there was the testimony of friends and neighbors.  Several testified that during the end of 2007 and into the beginning of 2008 the couple were having issues.  This would even be testified by Chris' employer, Joyce Meyer.  They had gone to counseling and by all outward appearances to most people seemed happier near the time of the murders.  One neighbor did testify however that he had talked with Chris sometime leading up to the murders and that he had expressed he was still unhappy in the marriage.  Chris had also told the neighbor that he would lose his $100,000 job if he were to divorce.  Joyce Meyer would testify that this was likely true.  She would also state that Chris, who she had known since he was a small child, had called her the day prior to the murders and asked to have the day off because he was not feeling well.  She would testify that this was unusual for Chris and it was indicated that it had never happened before although I cannot be certain nor can I say just how long Chris had worked for her.  Sheri had repeatedly told several people that Chris had commented that she and the kids were in the way among other things but most would say that Sheri would seemingly not confide the whole story to one person but bits and pieces to many.  

One good friend and neighbor to Sheri would testify that she became suspicious of Chris rather early for a few reasons.  The first was that she had discovered that he had told authorities that while the couple had guns that they were kept locked in the nightstands next to the bed.  The friend would claim that Sheri had been fearful since the threats had been made and had specifically told her as well as shown her that at night she kept the gun on top of the nightstand and out in the open.  The other thing that bothered the friend was that she and other friends and neighbors had made a makeshift memorial in the Coleman front yard.  About a week after the murders she had observed Chris picking the memorial up and throwing it in the trash cans.  She found this very odd behavior from a man who had just lost his family.

The prosecution would present evidence at Chris' 2011 trial that on February 9, 2009 someone in the Coleman household had bought the same color of spray paint that was found throughout the home.  A handwriting expert would testify that the writing on the wall in paint was consistent with Chris Coleman's handwriting.  They also had an expert who had compared the threatening notes and emails to an FBI database and while no real comparisons were found there, they were found to be consistent with his type of writing and words.  I know that this type of "science" is often disputed but I also believe that it can be reliable.  For instance if someone were to compare my writing style all they would have to do is come to this blog.  I know that I use the word "however" a lot along with other phrases.  While I do use spell check to ensure the accuracy the best I can, there are still words that I misspell consistently and the way computer forensics are today I am sure that could be found also.  

The defense, at least at the trial, it seems just tried to push the point that the investigators had "tunnel vision" and that once focused on Chris they never looked elsewhere.  Chris had two brothers and while it does not seem that the defense was making a real effort to show that one of them could have been a suspect, they did mention him.  I got the distinct impression, although I could be wrong, that at least one of his brothers may have believed him to be guilty due to a statement he made about their other brother being brought up in the trial.  The investigators that were testifying were asked about this brother, as well as other supposed leads they were given but according to the investigator those leads were followed and led no where.  

In the end it seems like it was a "no brainer" for the jury who would find Chris Coleman guilty on all charges.  Apparently the state had asked for the death penalty but he was sentenced to life in prison.

As I said in the beginning I found more than one website that proclaims Chris Coleman is innocent.  I cannot say who is in charge of those sites but they proclaim (at least two of them) that the murders were committed by a man named Edward Wayne Edwards.  I did a very quick cursory search on Edwards just to be able to say here that I had (and yes, his name made it to the list) and found that he was a man who is serving time in Montana but was in Illinois for most of his life and is a suspected serial killer.  Edwards was in his 70's by the time he was caught, which was not long after the Coleman murders, but to be honest I am unsure if he was caught with a current crime or a cold crime in which he had never been caught.  I find the probability that a 70 something year old man could have had the strength and endurance to strangle a thirty-one year old woman and two children. To add to this if we are to believe this story then we have to believe that the pathologists were not only wrong about the time of death but this old man, killed three people by means of strangulation, wrote all over the house with spray paint, and got out of the house without being seen or heard and did so in the confines of less than an hour. Oh, and let us not forget the man did not leave any DNA behind.  

I cannot even be sure that Chris Coleman has admitted to writing the threatening emails and letters.  He has had to admit to his relationship with Tara Lintz, that is for sure. But aside from that he has maintained his innocence and his parents believe him.

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