WATERLOO, Ill. (AP) -- A jury deliberated for five hours without reaching a verdict Wednesday in the murder trial of a former Marine accused of strangling his wife and their two sons in order to advance a love affair and protect his job working for a televangelist. The jury will resume its work on Thursday.
Prosecutors contend that Christopher Coleman used a ligature to strangle his 31-year-old wife, Sheri Coleman, and their 11- and 9-year-old sons at their home in Columbia in 2009. The defense has maintained an intruder killed Coleman's family.
In closing arguments, Monroe County State's Attorney Kris Reitz described how Coleman plotted the murders, and at the end stopped referring to Coleman by name and instead called him "the killer."
The prosecution claimed Coleman, 34, spent months plotting the killings to make it appear the work of an intruder who had stalked the family. They say Coleman authored and sent threatening letters to his own home and spray-painted vulgar messages on the walls.
Reitz said Coleman had "backed himself into a corner," and had promised his girlfriend he would divorce his wife. However, he couldn't because his employer, Missouri-based evangelist Joyce Meyer, had a policy against divorces that involved an adulterous affair.
In his closing argument, defense attorney James Stern said there was no physical evidence linking Coleman to the murder of his family. He also claimed investigators were under pressure to solve the crime, and only looked at the accused as a suspect.
"This is a guy who was raised by a pastor and a mother who were in here every day. He went in the Marines when he was 18. He worked security for a godly person like Joyce Meyer," Stern said. "People like that just don't wake up one morning and slaughter their families."
In contesting the prosecution's largely circumstantial case, his defense attorneys tried unsuccessfully to persuade a judge to exclude testimony by Sheri Coleman's friends, who claimed the mother had sought to save her unraveling marriage but feared her husband.
Earlier this week, a linguistics professor testified that threats made to the Coleman family were consistent with Coleman's writings. Hofstra University professor Robert Leonard said there were common characteristics between the threatening letters and emails received by Coleman that match distinct patterns in Coleman's writing. He said they include fused spellings such as "maybe" instead of may be, the use of "u" for you, and dropping apostrophes such as in "dont."
Also this week, three chemists identified the paint used to graffiti the inside of the Coleman home. The same type of paint was brought at a St. Louis hardware store with a credit card. Prosecutors contend the receipt was signed by Coleman.
Coleman did not testify Wednesday during a three-hour defense case.
Duke University forensic linguist Ronald Butters said the things Leonard found significant were actually meaningless regarding the similarities between Coleman's writing and the threats sent to the Colemans and the graffiti left in the Coleman home.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)