COLUMBIA, Ill. – A southwestern Illinois man accused of strangling his wife and two young sons pleaded not guilty to the killings Wednesday and was ordered held without bond.
During a roughly five-minute court appearance Wednesday, 32-year-old Chris Coleman stood next to his attorney shackled at the ankles and waist.
Judge Stephen Rice asked Coleman if he had a lawyer and whether he understood the charges he's facing. Coleman answered "Yes, sir."
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Rice also told Coleman that prosecutors will decide whether to seek the death penalty and told him that he also could get up to life in prison.
Coleman was arrested Tuesday and charged with three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of 31-year-old Sheri Coleman and their children, 11-year-old Garett and 9-year-old Gavin.
All three were found dead in their Columbia home on May 5.
Coleman's next court appearance is June 10.
He was arrested Tuesday at his parents' home in Chester, about 40 miles from Columbia, and charged with the three first-degree murder counts, according to Jeff Connor of the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis.
"We've done all we could to solve this as quickly as we could but as efficiently as we could," said Connor, who declined to discuss motive. "We feel very comfortable in these charges."
Coleman did not resist arrest, Connor said. Coleman, wearing an orange jail jumpsuit and with his arms shackled to his waist, refused to answer reporters' questions as police escorted him to a waiting vehicle.
Police had said they believed one person was responsible for the murders.
Connor confirmed on Tuesday that all the victims were strangled with a ligature but he declined to discuss the type of cord used.
The Major Case Squad presented evidence in the case to Monroe County State's Attorney Kris Reitz last week, but Reitz did not file charges pending the results of forensic tests. At the time authorities declined to name the suspect.
"For several days now we have been close," Connor said. "Tonight there was just some more evidence that came forward and we were able to solidify a more solid case."
The case remained open, although authorities were not looking for any other suspects, said Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards.
Edwards said he was relieved Coleman had been arrested.
"We knew there was a road we needed to go down, a goal we needed to reach," he said.
The day the bodies were found, Coleman called police from a gym and asked a Columbia police officer who had investigated prior threats related to the family for a well-being check around 7 a.m., investigators have said.
Coleman told officials that he called the house and no one answered, authorities said.
Officials have declined to discuss details about the alleged threats. Some neighbors in the well-kept subdivision have also said the Colemans received threatening letters and their mailbox was tampered with.
Police got to the suburban home that morning before Coleman arrived and discovered the bodies. Shortly after, officers had to restrain the visibly upset man in his yard.
Coleman worked security for Joyce Meyer Ministries, a Fenton, Mo.-based evangelical Christian group.
Joyce Meyer spokesman Roby Walker said last week that Coleman resigned after an internal inquiry found he failed to follow a ministry policy. Walker would not say what policy Coleman allegedly violated.