ST. LOUIS — An Illinois judge temporarily has blocked a family's quest to have the remains of a strangled woman and her two sons exhumed for reburial near her native Chicago, giving him time to weigh arguments by the imprisoned killer and his parents that the bodies should stay put.
Relatives of Sheri Coleman and her two boys had hoped to disinter the remains Monday from a cemetery in Chester. The Randolph County community is the hometown of Coleman's former husband, Christopher Coleman, who is serving life sentences in the May 2009 killings.
Just hours before the planned exhumations, a judge there issued a temporary restraining order sought by Christopher Coleman and his parents and halted the exhumations pursued by Sheri Coleman's Chicago-area mother and brother.
"It's hard to envision that a murderer can dictate to the victims' family where they must go to see their loved ones. It's malicious," Enrico Mirabelli, a Chicago attorney who's a cousin of Sheri Coleman, said Tuesday. "We find the Colemans' actions simply adding insult to injury, and we're confident the judge will reject their position."
Circuit Judge Richard Brown did not immediately set a hearing date.
Sheri Coleman's relatives had been issued a permit that took effect Monday to remove the bodies, as allowed to next-of-kin under Illinois law when there's no opposition from anyone with equal standing. But it's been challenged by Christopher Coleman, who before being arrested and charged in the killings nearly two weeks after the burials had autonomy in deciding where his wife and their sons would be laid to rest.
The legal dispute is the latest tangle involving the bodies. After the killings, Sheri Coleman's family got a court order that allowed them to bring the bodies to a Chicago-area memorial service before the remains were driven back to southwestern Illinois for burial.
Richard Whitney, an attorney for Christopher Coleman and his parents, said Tuesday that his clients have agreed to abandon any challenge to the exhumations and reburials if Coleman loses his immediate appeals of his murder convictions.
"Suppose he wins on appeal, wins a new trial and is found not guilty. What would happen then if the bodies already had been moved to (the Chicago area)?" Whitney said from his office in Carbondale, Ill. "They would have to be disinterred a second time. That would be ludicrous and unnecessary."
Christopher Coleman and his parents, Whitney argued, "want the decedents to rest in peace where they're at — at least until Christopher Coleman's appeal is exhausted," something Whitney said could take months or perhaps more than a year to resolve. "But we're not talking years and years," he said.
Jack Carey, an attorney for Sheri Coleman's survivors, was traveling Tuesday and did not immediately return a telephone message left for him by The Associated Press. But Carey voiced his displeasure about the exhumation challenge Monday, telling the St. Louis Post-Dispatch "this takes a lot of nerve."
"Haven't my clients suffered enough?" Carey said, calling the opposition "a classless, unprofessional act."
Coleman, a former Marine serving his life sentences at a prison in Waupun, Wis., was convicted in May on the two-year anniversary of the killings prosecutors say he carried out in the family's lakeside home in Columbia, Ill., to further an affair and keep a high-paying security job with a global ministry. His case, with its mix of religion, adultery and violence, tantalized much of the St. Louis region.
Jurors concluded Coleman spent months setting up the crime to make it look like the work of an intruder, sending himself threatening emails and spraying the crime scene with often-vulgar slogans in red paint to make it look like the killings were the work of a stalker critical of the evangelist for whom he worked.