WATERLOO, Ill. – A southwestern Illinois man accused of strangling his wife and two sons sent his family threatening e-mails from his laptop, and vulgar statements spray-painted throughout his house — including on the children's beds — matched his handwriting, according to testimony.
Christopher Coleman sat silently at his preliminary hearing Wednesday, during which Columbia Police Chief Joseph Edwards revealed new evidence in the case.
Edwards, the only person to take the stand, testified about details on the threatening e-mails, autopsy findings and more information about Coleman's alleged affair with a Florida woman.
Coleman, 32, has pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Sherri Coleman, 11-year-old Garett and 9-year-old Gavin, who were found strangled in their beds on May 5.
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Police went to the home after Coleman called from a St. Louis County gym where he worked out, saying he was concerned because his wife didn't answer the phone.
Authorities have not offered a motive in the killings and prosecutors have not decided if they will seek the death penalty.
Some of the 75 or so people who crammed into the tiny courtroom dabbed tears or muttered quietly to themselves during Edwards' testimony. Coleman spoke only briefly during the 30-minute hearing, answering "yes sir" or "no sir" in response to procedural questions from the judge. His attorneys, Bill and Art Margulis, declined to discuss the case
Edwards said Christopher Coleman initially contacted police in November, alleging an e-mailed threat to his family. He called police again in January and April about anonymous, typed, notes found in the mailbox of his home. Coleman told police the threats were related to his work as a bodyguard with Joyce Meyer Ministries, a suburban St. Louis-based evangelical group.
Investigators traced the original threatening e-mail and determined Christopher Coleman was the source, Edwards said.
"Basically your investigation revealed the e-mail was sent from his laptop to his place of employment," Monroe County States Attorney Kris Reitz asked.
"That is correct," Edwards said.
The police chief also offered new details about Coleman's alleged affair with the Florida woman.
Edwards said Coleman at first denied a romantic relationship with the woman, but that she told police a relationship began in November. Edwards said she bought him a cell phone, they shared a credit card and exchanged sexually explicit videos.
The woman told authorities she spoke with Coleman the night before the killings. "He indicated he would be serving Sherri with divorce papers the following day," Edwards said. The next morning, May 5, was the day the three bodies were discovered.
According to court documents, the woman told investigators that Coleman assured her by e-mail after the killings that he was not the killer and he had an alibi.
Edwards also testified that a handwriting expert believed Coleman's writing matched the vulgar statements spray-painted in red throughout his home and even on the two boys' beds.
Also, on the morning of the killing, Coleman told police his wife was alive when he left for the gym. But Edwards said by the time investigators arrived, it was clear all three victims had been dead for some time. He said autopsies indicated they were likely killed between 11 p.m. on May 4 and 3 a.m. on May 5.
Coleman's next hearing is set for Aug. 26.