WATERLOO • An attorney for Christopher Coleman, who was convicted of strangling his wife and two children in May 2009, is requesting a new trial.
Coleman was found guilty in 2011 of strangling his wife, Sheri, 31, and their sons, Garett, 11, and Gavin, 9, in their home in Columbia, Ill. He was sentenced by a judge to three life terms without possibility of parole.
But this week — almost seven years after that conviction — Coleman’s appointed attorney Lloyd Cueto Jr. filed a petition arguing that the jury’s verdict hinged on four explicit photos that were not properly reviewed by the court.
The photos were exchanged between Coleman and his then-mistress, Tara Lintz.
During the trial, prosecutors alleged that Coleman wanted to leave his wife to marry Lintz. Exposing his adultery, the prosecution said, would have jeopardized Coleman’s $100,000-a-year job as bodyguard for televangelist Joyce Meyer.
Prosecutors argued that lurid emails, texts, photos and videos between Coleman and his lover showed Coleman’s motive to kill his family and indicated the emotional intensity of the affair.
Defense attorneys asked that the images be banned because they could prejudice the jury against Coleman due to their explicit content.
Judge Milton Warton opted to allow some of the images but specified that the genitals in the photos be covered with black bars.
But during deliberation, thumbnail versions of the images that were not censored were let into the jury room on the back of a foam evidence board, according to Cueto’s petition.
The thumbnails included time stamps that were not entered into evidence, Cueto said.
Multiple jurors later told reporters from the TV show “48 Hours” and the Post-Dispatch that reading the time stamps with a magnifying glass was a turning point for some of the jurors in the 15-hour deliberation.
Juror Kimberly Ferrari, of Pinckneyville, Ill., called it an “ah-ha” moment, according to a May 2011 interview in the Post-Dispatch.
The dates on the photographs indicated they had been taken as early as October 2008, in contradiction of testimony by Lintz that the affair began two months later.
Ferrari told the Post-Dispatch the jury also came to believe the time stamps showed Coleman was deleting photos while police were interviewing him on the day of the murders.
Ferrari said several jurors were initially unwilling to find Coleman guilty, but the vote shifted after the discovery of the time stamps.
Coleman’s attorney argues the jurors should have never been able to see those dates and times.
“The jurors made their decision based on something that was never admitted into evidence,” Cueto said.
Cueto’s petition also points to the omission of other evidence during the trial including fingerprints and a shoe print that may have cast doubt on the prosecution’s narrative of events during the trial.
Monroe County State’s Attorney Chris Hitzemann must now review the petition and decide how to proceed, Cueto said.
Hitzemann was not in office during the trial that captivated the local community in 2011 with its combination of sex, religion and violence.
The region was so transfixed by the courtroom drama that the Monroe County Circuit Clerk told the Post-Dispatch at the time that there was a waiting list of 165 area residents hoping to sit in on the trial. The eventual jurors were bused in from Perry County.