Chris Coleman eligible for death penalty

2:56 PM, May 6, 2011   |    comments
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  • Chris Coleman (File photo)
  • Chris Coleman, second from left, along with his defense team, John O'Gara, Jim Stern and William Margulies, listen to testimony on Tuesday. (Credit: Dan Martin St. Louis Post-Dispatch/

Waterloo, IL (KSDK) - The jury that convicted a Columbia, Illinois man of murdering his wife and their two children, has decided Chris Coleman will be eligible for the death penalty under Illinois law.

"Phase two" of the trial began at 10:00 a.m. Friday. 

Once the jurors met, it took them just 20 minutes to reach their decision about eligibility.  It was announced shortly after noon.

Lawyers in the case told jurors that they must consider three factors in determining if Coleman is eligible for death: premeditated, young victims, multiple murder.

The prosecution argued the case met all three factors.

"How could it be more premeditated?" Special prosecutor with the State of Illinois Ed Parkinson, asked the jury.  "Thought he (Coleman) was so smart, all he had to deal with was little Columbia Police Department. Well, he learned differently."

Defense attorney John O'Gara had a much more somber tone, than what was used during the trial.

"You are now a jury of one," O'Gara said to the jury. "You are not required to reach a unanimous verdict. Your verdict from here on out, no matter what, is going to be respected."

O'Gara also told the jurors he knew it was hard and heart-throbbing.

Parkinson responded and said, "When they went to bed, May 4th, there were four hearts throbbing, beating and the only one left is his." Then, he pointed at Coleman.

He went on and urged the jury to let Sheri and the boys, Gavin and Garett, celebrate Mother's Day.

"Don't let him beat this part," Parkinson said. Sheri and the kids deserve you to say this guy meets the eligibility to be put to death."

"The verdict is not just a reflection on him," O'Gara said.  "Also reflects on who you are."

The jury will meet again on Monday for the third and final phase and decide between life in prison and death for Coleman. Before making that decision, jurors will hear from the victim's family and Coleman's family, as well as other witnesses.

Parkinson said his team will do everything they can to convince the jury to sentence Coleman to death, despite the fact that Illinois will no longer have a death penalty come July 1.  Governor Pat Quinn has said he will commute a death sentence.

"If there was ever a reason for a death penalty I think it would be for a father who murdered his wife and two defenseless young boys, innocent as they are, in their beds," said Parkinson.

Guilty verdict

Chris Coleman was found guilty of three counts of first-degree murder on the second anniversary of the deaths of his wife, Sheri, and their two sons, Gavin and Garett.

The verdict came on the second day of deliberations.  Earlier Thursday, the jury had asked the judge for the definition of "reasonable doubt" and requested to see the window from the Coleman home.

A crowd had gathered outside the courthouse prior to the verdict being read.  Those people erupted in cheers when the verdict was made public.

When the jurors came out of the courthouse to head back home, the crowd clapped for them as well.

"That's all I ever wanted was the truth," said Sheri Coleman's brother Mario DeCicco.  "Now the whole world knows what the truth is."

"Justice was done for Sheri," said DeCicco who also said he felt his sister helped with the conviction through text messages she sent to friends that were read to the jury that told of her troubled marriage.

"My sister practically testified in the courtroom," said DeCicco.

"Every lead we investigated pointed back to the same person, and that person was found guilty tonight of murdering Sheri, Garett and Gavin Coleman," said Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards.

Meanwhile, two of Sheri Coleman's best friends, Meegan Turnbeaugh and Kathy Laplante, said they were waiting for this moment. They exited the courtroom Thursday crying and hugging, overwhelmed with emotion. They had a plan to hand out bracelets in honor of Sheri's memory, but unfortunately they couldn't execute that plan.

Laplante was so overwhelmed with the verdict, she fell feet first down a flight of stairs, tumbling on her head. She was conscious and alert but had to be transported to the hospital to be checked out. She was seen being carried out of the courthouse on a stretcher wearing a neck brace.

Chris Coleman's family left the courthouse Thursday without offering comment.

Jurors spent five hours deliberating on Wednesday and wrapped at 8:00 p.m.  The jury began its second day of deliberations at 10:00 a.m. Thursday before reaching a verdict shortly before 7 p.m.

"That was the longest wait of my life," said Chief Edwards.  

During the trial, the defense repeatedly told the jury there was reasonable doubt in the case and that no physical evidence linked Coleman to the murders.

Prosecutors claimed Coleman strangled his wife and their two sons at their Columbia, Illinois home on May 5, 2009. They said he did it because he wanted to be with his mistress and feared he could lose his job in security for Joyce Meyer Ministries if he divorced his wife.

When police arrived at the Coleman home after the murders, they found a back window open.

Rick Sawdey, who works for the company that made the windows, testified that the window was not damaged and that the window has a forced entry resistance mechanism that prevents anyone from entering from the outside. He said there was no damage to the locks and it did not appear to have ever been forcefully opened.


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