PINCKNEYVILLE, Ill. (AP) -- Jury selection began Monday in the southern Illinois trial of a former Marine accused of strangling his wife and their two sons as they slept.
Hundreds of prospective jurors filled out questionnaires at the Knights of Columbus hall in Pinckneyville about their backgrounds and what they may know about the case involving Christopher Coleman.
Those ultimately selected will be taken to hear the case about 60 miles away in Waterloo in Monroe County, where the killings took place in May 2009. Opening statements were scheduled to begin April 25.
Coleman, 34, has pleaded not guilty to murdering his 31-year-old wife, Sheri Coleman, and their two children, ages 11 and 9.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty, though that will be mainly symbolic. Gov. Pat Quinn last month abolished capital punishment in Illinois, and the Democrat pledged to commute a death sentence given to anyone before the ban takes effect July 1.
Prosecutors contend that Coleman killed his family in order to advance a love affair and protect his job with a televangelist whose operation had a no-divorce policy for employees. Investigators believe Coleman spent months preparing in order to make it appear his wife and children were killed by a stalker. They say he sent threatening letters to his own home from the purported stalker, and later spray-painted vulgar messages on its walls after the killings.
Authorities say that at the time of the killings, Coleman was months into a sexual relationship with Tara Lintz, a Florida woman who went to high school with his wife. In court filings, investigators say Lintz acknowledged the relationship and said Coleman told her he planned to divorce his wife by mid-June 2009. By that time, he already was accused in the killings.
Lintz, despite her reluctance, was ordered to testify at the trial.
Coleman also acknowledged the relationship to investigators, the documents say. He told police his wife and children were asleep when he left the house on May 5, 2009, to work out at a Missouri gym about five miles away, but that he grew concerned when he could not reach them by telephone. The bodies were found after he called police.
Investigators have said the victims were strangled with a ligature, perhaps a cord. Police say they found orange twine fashioned into a noose near a Mississippi River bridge that would have been along Coleman's route to the gym, and that it resembled cord tied around straw bales behind the Coleman home.
A forensic pathologist, Michael Baden, testified in a pretrial hearing that based on the stiffening condition of the victims' bodies when they were found, the killings took place before Coleman left for the gym. Coleman's attorneys sought to discredit his testimony.
Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com
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