Chris Coleman
9:54 pm
Thu May 5, 2011

Coleman guilty of murders

Two years ago today, police in Columbia, Ill. found 31-year-old Sheri Coleman and her sons - 11-year-old Garett and nine-year-old Gavin - strangled in their beds.

Tonight, a Monroe County jury found her husband Chris guilty of their deaths, after 14 hours of deliberation spread over two days.

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Coleman reacted with an exasperated expression and looked down. He looked at his notes as the jury was polled, all agreeing with the guilty verdict.

His family, looking somber, immediately left the courtroom and went into a side room. Coleman's parents, the Rev. Ronald Coleman and Connie Coleman got into their car and left without taking questions.

Sheri Coleman's mother, Angela DeCicco, cried. The judge warned against outward displays of emotion.

A woman who had been sitting with relatives and friends of Sheri Coleman left the courtroom and exclaimed "We got him!"

An ambulance was called to the courthouse in the aftermath of the verdict. It was unclear why.

As Christopher Coleman was driven away in a sheriff's car about 8 p.m., about 150 people gathered along the cordoned-off driveway from the sallyport cheered, and some motorists nearby honked car horns.

The guilty verdict does not end the jury's work, because Monroe County prosecutor Kris Reitz is seeking the death penalty. The 10 women and two men will be back in Waterloo tomorrow to begin the penalty phase of the trial.

Beth Hundsdorfer, a reporter covering the trial for the Belleville News-Democrat, says jurors will first consider whether Coleman's crime makes him eligible for the death penalty under Illinois law  - for example, were multiple people killed, or were some of the victims children under a certain age. Then, they will consider whether to sentence him to death.

Regardless of the jury's decision, Coleman is likely to get life in prison without parole. Though legislation Gov. Pat Quinn signed in March doesn't abolish the death penalty until July, Quinn has said he will commute the sentences of those who receive the death penalty in that time. 

Sheri Coleman's family has filed a wrongful death suit against Chris Coleman and Joyce Meyer Ministries, where Coleman was working as the head of security at the time of the murders.