Judge dismisses wrongful death suit against Joyce Meyer Ministries in Coleman murders

2012-09-20T12:30:00Z 2012-09-21T13:50:26Z Judge dismisses wrongful death suit against Joyce Meyer Ministries in Coleman murdersBY NICHOLAS J.C. PISTOR • npistor@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8265 stltoday.com

WATERLOO • The wrongful death suit against Joyce Meyer Ministries involving the murder of her bodyguard's family was dismissed by a judge this week, but the case can be refiled. 

Lawyers for the Fenton-based televangelist ministry argued last month that the suit, filed in 2011, lacked merit because the ministry had nothing to do with the deaths. They also said that the lawsuit was vague and lacked specifics. 

Judge Richard Aguirre signed the order dismissing the lawsuit on Tuesday, but said that it can be refiled within 30 days.

Christopher Coleman, the ministry's bodyguard and security chief, spent six months plotting to kill his family, sending written death threats to help stage the crime and point the blame at a deranged phantom killer. The bodies of his wife, Sheri, and two preteen sons, Garett and Gavin, were found in their Columbia, Ill., home on May 5, 2009. Coleman was convicted two years later of three counts of first degree murder.

The family of Sheri Coleman — her mother and brother — sued the ministry, saying it should have known Coleman had sent the written threats. They also claim the ministry should have warned Sheri Coleman that her husband was having an affair, which police said led to the murders.

The suit has had various incarnations since the murders first occured.

Attorneys for Joyce Meyer said the lawsuit failed to cite any evidence that the ministry was at fault.

Judge Aguirre's order allows Sheri Coleman's family to rewrite their complaint an refile it within 30 days.  Jack Carey, a lawyer representing them, says they will do so. 

"This was not unanticipated," Carey said. "We lacked some things in specificity and we will refile." 

Prosecutors said Coleman killed his wife and family to avoid a divorce and start a new life with his lover in Florida. Joyce Meyer Ministries says it doesn't have a written policy on divorce. Meyer, a charismatic televangelist, testified that the ministry often looked at the reason behind an employee's divorce, and it could result in termination.

This is the second time the lawsuit has been dropped. 

Carey's first wrongful-death suit involving the murders was against Christopher Coleman, and had named the ministry as a "respondent in discovery." That's a formal process for gathering information before asking a judge to add the respondent as a defendant.

Last year, Circuit Judge Dennis Doyle ruled that Carey missed a deadline to take sworn statements from Joyce Meyer and her staff. Carey soon dropped the ministry as a respondent, and the case was idled until the family dismissed it.  They then refiled the case in 2011 shortly before Christopher Coleman was convicted of the murders. 

Follow reporter Nick Pistor on Twitter at www.twitter.com/nickpistor

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