ST. LOUIS (AP) — A man serving life in prison for the 2009 killings of his wife and their two young sons in southwestern Illinois has asked a state appellate court to toss out his convictions, claiming decisions by the trial judge fanned juror bias against him.
Christopher Coleman, 37, argues in a 62-page petition filed with the Mount Vernon, Ill.-based 5th District Appellate Court that jurors were wrongly allowed to see excessive numbers of videos and photographs of Coleman and his lover, making them substantially prejudicial due to their ‘‘lurid and disgusting character.’’ The images, the appeal claimed, ‘‘had a strong tendency to produce intense disgust and antagonism’’ toward Coleman.
Prosecutors insisted Coleman carried out the killings in the family’s lakeside Columbia home southeast of St. Louis to further his tryst and keep a high-paying security job with televangelist Joyce Meyer’s global ministry without getting a divorce, and that Coleman staged the crime scene.
Coleman, a former Marine who was working as the bodyguard for Meyer, was convicted in May 2011 of charges that he strangled his wife and two sons, ages 11 and 9, in their beds — a case that tantalized much of the St. Louis region, given its mix of religion, adultery and violence.
Coleman’s appeal, while broadly arguing prosecutors didn’t sufficiently prove their case, said the prosecution’s theory that Coleman strangled wife Sheri Coleman ‘‘because he couldn’t seek a divorce from her, for job reasons’’ wrongly relied on repetitive hearsay testimony that his wife wouldn’t have accepted a divorce. The appeal called that harm to Coleman ‘‘substantial,’’ noting ‘‘the affair was one thing (but) it did not have to result in the end of the marriage’’ as prosecutors submitted.
‘‘It’s our belief there are a number of equally egregious errors in the admission of evidence by the trial court that shouldn’t have happened,’’ Coleman’s appellate attorney, Peter Wise, told The Associated Press on Monday from his office in Springfield, Ill. ‘‘Really the issue that’s powerful for Mr. Coleman is the cumulative effect of these errors.’’
A message was left Monday seeking comment from Sharon Shanahan, an Illinois Appellate Prosecutor’s Office attorney who has until March 31 to file a response to Coleman’s appeal.
Prosecutors at trial displayed for jurors crime-scene and autopsy photos, as well as pictures depicting an obscene phrase found spray-painted in red on the home’s wall and on one of the boys’ bedding — vandalism jurors concluded Coleman staged to make the slayings look like the work of an intruder, perhaps a stalker critical of Meyer.
Prosecutors argued Coleman spent months setting up the killings by sending himself threatening emails.
While acknowledging Coleman’s affair, his attorneys argued at trial there was no physical evidence directly linking him to the killings, and much of the testimony — including that involving comparisons of Coleman’s writing samples and the graffiti — was unscientific and meaningless.
Coleman’s appeal questions the veracity of experts whose testimony linked Moore to the spray-painted messages.