Judge in Chris Coleman case issues gag order

1:51 PM, Apr 18, 2011   |    comments
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Pinckneyville, IL (KSDK) - Jury selection for the Chris Coleman triple murder trial entered its second week. Lawyers tell NewsChannel 5, they hope to have a jury picked early this week.

Lawyers on both sides are meeting this afternoon to discuss if they have a large enough pool of potential jurors to start picking the 12 jurors and four alternates needed. Lawyers have speculated that the jury could be picked by early this week. The actual trial is scheduled for April 25th in Monroe County, Illinois.

Judge Milton Wharton told the court this morning that he is placing a gag order on reporters and Coleman from talking to one another. The ruling stems from a question that was asked by a reporter on Friday as Coleman was walking to the courthouse. Judge Wharton told reporters not to say anything to Coleman as he is coming and going from courthouse. Judge Wharton said he had to weigh a reporter's first amendment right and the defendant's right to a fair trial when making such a decision. In the end, the most predominant thing is the defendants right to fair trial. The judge told the court that he was afraid a potential juror could hear one of the questions being answered by Coleman and that could be grounds for a mistrial.

Since Coleman's arrest in May 2009, he has yet to make a statement to media.

Coleman, 34, is charged with three counts of first-degree murder. He's accused of killing his wife and two kids in their Columbia, Illinois home in May of 2009. The prosecution claims Coleman killed his family to escape his marriage to be with his mistress. Coleman has pleaded not guilty to the crimes.

Last week, the attorneys and the judge conducted intense and often personal interviews of roughly 70 people. But they will need at least part of another week before Coleman can have his day in court.

Coleman stands accused of killing his wife and two sons, in their Columbia, Illinois home nearly two years ago. Attorneys want to find a jury to hear his case, one that hasn't already heard too much about it in the news.

About 60 miles from the crime scene, dozens of potential jurors reported to the Perry County Courthouse last week. There they answered question from prosecutors and defense attorneys focused on their fairness, and their willingness to consider both the death penalty and life without parole should they first convict Coleman.

"Someone who can kill a child is either evil or crazy... (and) would definitely deserve the death sentence," said one prospective juror Friday. She was dismissed, as were those adamantly opposed to a death sentence.

But not all of the questions centered on life or death. The judge pressed a Marine Reservist on his ability to be impartial, since Coleman also served as a Marine. The man assured the judge he could and added he had heard very little about the alleged crimes.

He, and 37 others, cleared the first round of interviews. But attorneys say that is still not enough to choose 12 jurors and 4 alternates, who will decide the fate of Coleman.

The judge scheduled a full two weeks just for jury selection. 

NewsChannel 5's Ryan Dean and Casey Nolen are covering the jury selection process and the trial.  Follow their tweet updates @ksdknews.


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