The Writing on the Wall

Following threats, the wife and young sons of the head of security for a televangelist are found strangled in their Illinois home

Produced by Sara Ely Hulse and Clare Friedland
[This show originally aired on May 5, 2012. It was updated on July 19, 2014.]

COLUMBIA, Ill. (CBS) - On the morning of May 5, 2009, Christopher Coleman returned home from the gym to a scene of chaos and unimaginable horror.

"I told him, 'Hey, they -- they didn't make it' -- being the family," Detective Justin Barlow of the Columbia Police Department said. "[Chris] sat down on the driveway and started sobbing. Said he felt like he was gonna throw up. And then kind of curled up in the fetal position."

Detective Barlow had been the Coleman's neighbor for five years and was the first to respond when Chris could not reach his wife.

"This crime scene, it wasn't bloody," he told "48 Hours" correspondent Maureen Maher. "...but that didn't mean it was less gruesome."

"Were you at all prepared for what you were about to walk into?" Maher asked.

"I don't think anybody could be prepared for that," said Barlow.

Upstairs, where they should have been safe in their beds, were 31-year-old Sheri and the couple's two young boys, 11-year-old Garett, and 9-year-old Gavin.

"What is the lasting image you have in your mind from that day?" Maher asked Barlow.

"I would say the one that sticks out the most would probably be Garett, just because he's the one that -- that, you know, I -- I discovered," he said.

"Is that a haunting image for you?"

"Yeah. Little bit," Barlow nodded.

The killer had not only taken Garett's life, but had desecrated the body by leaving another disturbing message.

"The spray paint in his room was actually on the sheet that was over his body?" asked Maher.

coelmanthreat.jpg
"Punished" One of the Manson-style messages spray-painted on a wall in the Coleman home
CBS News

"It was and there was some remnants of the spray paint on him as well," said Barlow.

"We knew that -- that this case was gonna be probably the biggest one -- of our lives -- definitely our careers, probably our lives," said Chief Joe Edwards.

Columbia, Ill., is a small, quiet suburb outside of St. Louis. Chief Edwards calls it "a wonderful place to live and raise a family."

Chief Edwards immediately recognized that his two investigators were going to need some help and called in a special unit - Major Jeff Connor and the Major Case Squad of Greater St. Louis, which brought in an army of 25 seasoned cops.

"It's typically your smaller departments that need the resource -- need the help," Maj. Connor explained.

Hours after the murders, the Major Case Squad swung into high gear. The CSI team started processing the house, warrants were secured to go through the Coleman's phones and computers, while a very distraught Chris was taken to the police station to give his statement.

Coleman told investigators that it had been a normal morning. He got up and left for the gym around 5:40 a.m. and called Sheri numerous times to wake her up.

As neighbors woke to the news of the murders, they were both devastated and terrified.

"So as I got down the street, I see that it was at the Coleman house. And I text her right away and said, 'Is everything OK?' And I didn't get a response," said an emotional Vanessa Riegerix.

Riegerix, who lived down the street, said the Colemans appeared to have a perfect life raising their two beautiful sons.

"I always thought of them as the American family, the perfect family," Riegerix said. "...everybody would want their children like these two boys, polite -- always helpful ... they had a heart of gold."

The couple had been married for 12 years and met when they were both in the military, training at the K9 unit. Sheri became a stay-at-home mom.

Chris, 32, the son of a preacher, used his Marine and security experience to land a job for a well-known televangelist, Joyce Meyer.

"Joyce Meyer is now known throughout the country, and known throughout the world -- as a leading voice in the evangelical movement," St Louis Post-Dispatch reporter Nick Pistor explained. "She's extremely successful financially. ...I've seen figures from $50 million to $100 million a year."

Pistor has followed the Coleman case for two years and is a CBS News consultant.

"Joyce Meyer does conferences all throughout the world in countries that have -- that don't necessarily respond well -- to women who -- are preaching -- a Christian message. And so she wanted some deeper security," he said.

But being Joyce Meyer's head of security apparently put a target on Chris Coleman's back. In November 2008, Chris had begun receiving death threats to his work email.

"Whenever Chris Coleman reported the first death threat that he got from his e-mail account at w-- at his work at Joyce Meyer Ministries, he came to us at the police department," said Barlow.

The email read:

Tell Joyce to stop preaching the bull---- if I can't get to Joyce, then I will get to someone close to her

"We give the Coleman family... extra patrol which we just patrol the area a lot more than we normally would during a shift and give it special attention to make sure nobody's there," explained Barlow.

It was in January 2009, that a hand-delivered threat showed up in the mailbox at the Coleman family home. It read:

F--- You! Deny your God publically or else. No more oppurtunities [sic]. Time is running out for you and your family!

"Did it concern you as a neighbor living so closely when you heard that there were death treats being made to the guy who lived across the street?" Maher asked Barlow.

"Absolutely," he replied.

Each note seemed to escalate the seriousness of the situation and, on April 27, less than a week before the murders, a final missive arrived with an ultimatum:

Stop today or else. I know your schedule! You can't hide from me forever. I'm always watching. I know when you leave in the morning and I know when you stay home.

"You decided to ramp things up yourself to be proactive," Maher noted to Barlow. "And what did you do at your house?"

"We got one camera mounted up in my 5-year-old's bedroom and pointed it right at the mailbox," he replied.

With the camera aimed directly at the Coleman's mailbox, about 214 feet away approximately, according to Barlow, they hoped to get a clear shot of whoever was leaving the notes.

"...and be prepared for something that was gonna happen. And be as proactive about it as we could," said Barlow.

Instead, days later, the killer somehow snuck into the Coleman home and strangled Sheri, Garett and Gavin.

But if the murders were linked to the threats and Joyce Meyer Ministries, that meant the cops might now be on a global search for suspects.

"There was a lot of fear that there was somebody out there killin' families, and who was gonna be next?" said Maj. Connor.

QUESTIONING CHRIS COLEMAN

The small town of Columbia, Ill., was reeling with the sudden loss of Sheri, Garett and Gavin Coleman.

"This touched an entire community... The neighbors were shocked," reporter Nick Pistor explained. "They saw the young boys playing touch football with their father on the front lawn. These were little boys that they knew."

Close friends like Kathy LaPlante were crushed.

"You could just see the pain on everyone's face. It devastated the community," LaPlante said. "Sheri was a loving mother, loyal friend and sister to me. My life's not the same...it put hole in my heart."

"If I would've known for one millisecond she was in danger, I would've been down there," said Sheri's brother, Mario DiCiccio.

The Coleman Family
The Coleman Family
The Coleman Family

For Sheri's brother and their mother, Angela, it was impossible to accept the reality of the brutal crime.

"She grew up to be a beautiful person on the outside as well as on the inside," Angela explained. "...they were her world, those boys. They were her world."

"Garett was more -- quiet and more like a -- more of a thinker. He was -- you could tell by lookin' in his eyes he was always thinking," Mario explained. "And Gavin was very...outgoing...he was like a social butterfly. ...his personality's just like his mom's. Just like his mother's."

"With Sheri, Garett and Gavin, I mean, I think that just... that's what the motivation was for everybody," said Det. Justin Barlow.

Hours into the investigation, the Major Case Squad continued to pursue their best lead -- finding whoever wrote those threats.

"We tracked down people across the country who didn't like Joyce Meyer. We interviewed them to find out where they were at on May the 4th and May the 5th," said Chief Joe Edwards.

And that morning they were hoping Chris Coleman might be able to point them in the right direction:

Det. Barlow: Who do you suspect? I mean. Out of all these emails and things you've been talking at work, there's got to be one person that stands out in your mind?

Chris Coleman: (voice cracks) I don't have a clue. I should have been there this morning.

But as police continued to talk to Coleman, they were surprised by how he was acting:

Sgt. Bivens: How do you think they died?

Chris Coleman: I have no idea. You guys haven't told me.

Sgt. Bivens: OK. Do you have any clues?

Chris Coleman: (Mumbles)

"Did he ever ask how his wife and children died? Maher asked Barlow.

"No," he replied.

"He never asked."

"No."

"What else sticks out in your mind from those first few hours?"

"Just the lack of reaction, I mean just the lack of curiosity of 'what's going on,'" said Barlow.

So police kept probing:

Sgt. Bivens: Was there a problem in your relationship? Was there anything currently that wasn't going so well in your relationship?

Chris Coleman: No, not really. I mean just a communication thing.

Sgt. Bivens: Had you seen anyone else outside of your wife.

Chris Coleman: What do you mean?

Sgt. Bivens: In a romantic way?

Chris Coleman: No.

Chris was adamant that he was not having a relationship outside of his marriage, so it seemed odd when he offered a stunning piece of information about another woman:

Chris Coleman: Tara in Florida that you guys are going to talk to, I talk to her a ton lately, but --

Sgt. Bivens: And what's with that?

Chris Coleman: Just a friend, somebody to talk to.

Tara is Tara Lintz -- a cocktail waitress and an old high school friend of Sheri's.

Sgt. Bivens: OK. You said you had a close friendship, but were you actually doing anything that you felt wouldn't be approved by your wife?

Chris Coleman: Some of the conversations, probably.

Coleman insisted they were just friends -- that he met Lintz through Sheri when their family went to Florida on vacation:

Sgt. Bivens: Did it have potential to go further?

Chris Coleman: No. I didn't want to do that to my kids.

Police in Lintz' hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla., were contacted to check out Chris' story.

Detective Shannon Halstead got the call.

"So, we went from the station to go make contact w ith her thinking it was gonna be a quick, 20-minute interview and it ended up being very different," she said.

That's because the information Halstead gained from Lintz about the relationship was very different than what Chris Coleman was telling police in Illinois.

"She provided the Blackberry and the laptop computer, obviously, had files of videos and emails ... relating to their relationship," Det. Halstead told Maher.

"Did you immediately step out and call St. Louis?"

"I did."

"And what did you say to them?"

"I said, 'I'm not positive, but I think this is his girlfriend,'" said Det. Halstead.

Armed with that information, Det. Barlow confronted Chris:

Det. Barlow: The one thing I did want to tell you right now, the St. Petersburg homicide unit is talking to Tara right now, and she showed us the pictures you sent her of you two, and we know you two have been having an affair.

"So was that a pretty big break for you guys?" Maher asked Det. Barlow.

"It was a -- important piece," he replied.

Investigators learned the couple had begun seeing each other in the fall of 2008, six months before the murders. During the affair, Chris would fly Lintz to meet him at locations where he was working for Joyce Meyer.

Det. Barlow: I know you guys went to Hawaii together. We pulled the Enterprise leasing cars receipt where you guys went to different trips together...

Chris Coleman: Well, I didn't think it was an affair.

Det. Barlow: You didn't think it was an affair?

Chris Coleman: No an affair is when you're like living with them and you plan to get married and everything.

"She had on her calendar -- a scheduled wedding to Chris Coleman, scheduled vacations, different accounts -- credit card accounts that they held together -- and I think she, honest to God, believed that he was going to leave his wife and two children," said Det. Halstead.

Chris' parents, Pastor Ron Coleman and his wife, Connie, were stunned to learn their son had an affair. They insisted it had nothing to do with the murders.

"He's always been a real gentle person-- kinda quiet," Connie Coleman told Maher.

"Is there any way there's a part of Chris that you don't know that could have been capable of this?" Maher asked.

"Not in my view," Ron Coleman replied. "... you couldn't put something around your kid's throat unless you're a monster. It's just not there. It's just not there."

While investigators believed Chris' affair with Tara Lintz was a strong motive for murder, there wasn't enough evidence to charge him. So after six long hours, Chris Coleman walked out a free man.

"It wasn't like we were wanting to believe that Chris is the one who did this. It's just that the evidence kept pointing to him," said Maj. Jeff Connor.

THE OTHER WOMAN

Every day, friends and neighbors are reminded of the beautiful lives that were stolen from them.

"The memorial -- in their subdivision is awesome. There's a bench and there's trees," Meegan Turnbeaugh explained. "...the community of Columbia Lakes got together and created that. ...So they wanted to do something positive. And they created a nice memorial."

Turnbeaugh says it's a fitting tribute - unlike the funeral service at Pastor Coleman's church.

"No friends, no family, no coaches. Nobody spoke about these three awesome people that were dead," she said.

In the days that followed the service, any sympathy for Chris Coleman was stripped away as news spread about his affair with Sheri's high school friend, Tara Lintz.

"Well, when the affair came out, and I had no idea, and I heard about it from someone else. I felt like every day I was just getting stabbed in the heart by these little pieces of information," said Kathy LaPlante.

Asked if she thought Coleman would be arrested, Turnbeaugh told Maher, "Yes. And I couldn't wait. I was nervous, to be honest with you."

The Major Case Squad felt that pressure.

"Obviously, in any case...you want to get the person responsible for it. But you want to get the right person," said Det. Justin Barlow.

But right away, there were red flags. Police were concerned when they found a basement window open and others unlocked.

"Here's a guy who's family is bein' threatened. They're gonna destroy his family while he's gone, and yet, that window was left unlocked, and it was obvious it was left unlocked, 'cause there was no forced entry," said Maj. Jeff Connor.

And remember that camera Det. Barlow installed in his house?

"We saw no strangers walking up and down the street. You saw no strange vehicles," said Chief Joe Edwards.

Chris had even installed his own surveillance cameras in his house.

"What about the surveillance equipment that was allegedly in the house?" Maher asked Maj. Connor.

"The recorder was missing," he replied.

"That's convenient."

"Yes."

An autopsy on Sheri revealed she fought violently with her killer, leaving her with two black eyes.

"Sheri was involved in an altercation before she was murdered. Those two boys weren't," said Chief Edwards.

Which made scratches found on Chris Coleman's arms all the more suspicious.

"When did you first notice the scratches on his arms?" Maher asked Det. Barlow.

"It was brought to my attention by people at the scene," he replied.

Det. Barlow: How are you doing?

Chris Coleman: Freezin.

Det. Barlow: Anything I can get you? You're freezing?

Police say Coleman tried to hide his arms during his interview.

"You can see on the video where he's asking for a blanket because he says he's cold. The only part of his body that he covers up are the -- you know, suspected-- marks on his arm," Barlow explained.

Det. Barlow: That'll work, won't it.

Chris Coleman: Yeah that's fine. As long as I can cover my arms. I'm freezing. [Covers his arms]

"I remember in the interview room it being very warm in there," Barlow told Maher.

"Did you think he was in shock?"

"No."

Chris later claimed he got those scratches the day before when he was removing a satellite dish from his roof.

Asked if there was any DNA found at the scene that would implicate him, Det. Barlow said, "I'll just say there wasn't any DNA found that didn't belong there. No boogeyman, no -- unidentified DNA, anything like that."

There was incriminating evidence found on Chris' phone and computers, starting with X-rated snapshots and videos that Tara Lintz and Chris had sent each other.

"It was a serious affair. He had written down every -- her measurements, her favorite things. Everything about her he had stored so he could, you know -- buy her things or do whatever for her," reporter Nick Pistor said. "By November 5th of 2008, Chris had written on his computer that that was the day Tara changed his life."

For police, that date would set off alarms bells.

"And how many days after that, then, did the threats start to show up?" Maher asked Pistor.

"About nine days after that," he replied.

Nine days. The Colemans insist it's all a coincidence.

"It's my understanding that he had written down, 'November 5th, the day Tara changed my life.' That they had exchanged promise rings... And that he had even written down the name of their first child were it to be a little girl," Maher commented to Chris' parents. "Is that true?"

"That's not Chris," said Ron Coleman.

"Honestly, I cannot imagine him doin' that," Connie Coleman said. "He just didn't really operate in that -- in that arena of -- emotions. He just didn't. He was just very calm and logical sense."

Chris' parents believe their son is innocent and that it was an intruder who killed his family and left hateful messages. In fact, Chris even voluntarily provided samples of his own handwriting to police.

Asked what was the most important piece of evidence at the crime scene, Maj. Jeff Connor told Maher, "At the crime scene, probably the handwriting on the walls."

But those samples would later come back to haunt Chris Coleman.

"The crime scene lab coming back and saying that the handwriting found on the wall matches up to the handwriting -- from the handwriting example that Christopher Coleman gave at the Columbia Police Department," said Det. Barlow.

Finally, two weeks after the murders, police felt they had enough to make their case. Christopher Coleman was charged with the first-degree murder of his wife and two sons.

"If it was another time they would have had pitchforks and lanterns in their hands," Pistor said of the public's reaction. "They were out for vengeance. They wanted this case solved and they wanted it solved immediately and they wanted him to be found guilty immediately."

"Were you there when he was arrested?" Maher asked Ron Coleman.

"Yes. It was at night," he replied. "...the worst scenario. ... we'd lost Garett and Gavin and Sheri and now Chris is gone."

Sheri's friends and neighbors were relieved, but angry at the toll it had taken on them and their children.

"I've talked to some of the moms, and the children in the community wonder if their dad could do the same thing," said LaPlante.

And investigators insist all this pain was caused by Chris Coleman's obsession.

"And all because of a woman," Maher commented to Maj. Connor.

"I believe that had a major part of it," he said.

MOTIVE FOR MURDER?

"This crime was about greed, sex, selfishness, and narcissism. Chris Coleman decided he wanted a new life, and his family was in the way," Prosecutor Ed Parkinson told Maureen Maher. "He was obviously a monster who carried out a very sadistic plan."

By the time Chris Coleman went on trial in April 2011, prosecutor Ed Parkinson and his team had spent two years building their case.

"This was a huge case ... this was, like, a 10,000 piece puzzle," said Chief Joe Edwards.

The murders of Sheri Coleman and her two young boys were a big case for local media, as well. All the pre-trial publicity prompted the judge to bus in a jury from a county an hour-and-a-half away.

"What was the biggest challenge for you as a prosecutor in this case?" Maher asked Parkinson.

"People who turn out to be jurors have to accept the fact that parents kill their kids...it's just hard to accept," he replied. "He just looked like a good guy."

"How do you get that much hatred for a child?" Chief Edwards asked.

As unthinkable as it was, at every corner, investigators had turned up more evidence against Coleman. Some of it came from Sheri's own friends, who were determined to have their day in court.

"What was it like waiting for the two years for the trial?" Maher asked Meegan Turnbeaugh.

"It was life changing," she replied, "and not for the better."

"How did you feel about testifying?"

"I was scared to death. I was like, 'I'm gonna do this for Sheri.'"

Coleman, sporting a new hairdo and a bulletproof vest at his trial, would hear those friends bolster the prosecutor's claim that he had lied about his marriage in his interrogation:

Chris Coleman: We talked about it a while back about possibly maybe splitting up or something... We started meeting with actually one of the pastors...

Det. Justin Barlow: OK. From Joyce's church?

Chris Coleman: Yeah, things have been going awesome."

Coleman insisted that he and his wife had merely hit a few bumps in the road and were helped by counseling. Sheri told her friends a different story.

"She was in my room and she was crying and Chris wanted to leave her," Kathy LaPlante said. "And then he would start to say hurtful things like 'I never loved you.'"

But Sheri wasn't willing to let him go.

"And he would put on a face in front of the marriage counselor. And Sheri said when he got back home he'd yell at her and, you know, it would just be hell to pay," said LaPlante.

Prosecutor Parkinson says there's a reason Coleman wanted Sheri to be the one to divorce him.

"I believe he became so enraptured by Tara Lintz...but he couldn't get divorced in his own mind, because then he'd lose his $100,000 job a year with Joyce Meyer Ministries," he said. "They frown on divorce, if it's your fault."

Parkinson believes Coleman was hoping to make a clean break before anyone caught on about the affair. In a videotaped deposition, Joyce Meyer confirmed her ministry's zero tolerance of adultery.

"If he would have been having an adulterous affair, while he was still married, then it could have definitely affected his job," said Meyer.

But eventually Sheri did find out her husband was having an affair with her best friend from high school.

"Sheri opened up her computer one night with a friend and said, 'Do you want to see the woman who's having an affair with my husband?' And showed images of Tara Lintz," said reporter Nick Pistor.

But Sheri still refused to get divorced. And something she said to her friend, Kathy LaPlante, will haunt her forever.

"When he came home, demanding a divorce...she told me that if anything happened to her, Chris did it," said LaPlante.

Several months later, Sheri and her sons were dead.

"What do you think the trigger was that made it May 5th?" Maher asked Parkinson.

"I think Tara was pressing him. I think he just got pushed into his own corner," the prosecutor replied.

"They had wedding dates planned. Chris had told Tara...that he was serving Sheri with divorce papers on May the 5th, the day of the homicides," Det. Justin Barlow told Maher.

"And had he ever filed divorce papers?"

"Not that we found, no," he replied.

"Did he ever speak to an attorney?"

"No."

After hearing all about this "other woman," the jury would finally get to meet her. It was the most anticipated moment of the trial: Tara Lintz making her entrance under police escort.

"She arrived at the courthouse ... almost like a Hollywood star arriving somewhere," Pistor recalled. "It was a packed courtroom gallery."

Lintz testified that she and Coleman talked or texted, "all the time, constantly" and that they often professed their love for each other. When asked whether she and Coleman had plans to marry, her short answer spoke volumes: "The divorce had to happen first."

"Do you think that Tara had anything to do with the murders?" Maher asked Parkinson.

"No, I don't," he replied.

"And you don't think she had any idea that something was about to happen?"

"Nope. Not from any of the evidence, I don't believe that," said Parkinson.

But the prosecutor does believe Coleman's lust for Tara Lintz had everything to do with it. And to drive his point home, he showed the court the sexually explicit videos and photos the two sent each other.

"We said, 'Lord please help us.' We don't have to look at this, but please help us sit here for his sake that he doesn't feel we're ashamed of him," Connie Coleman told Maher.

Now, instead of embarking on an exciting new life and keeping his six-figure income, Chris Coleman was facing the death penalty.

A GUT-WRENCHING CASE

Chris Coleman had a prominent local defense team at his side when he went on trial for his life. But John O'Gara and Bill Margulis had to admit they faced an uphill battle.

"The evidence was, although, all circumstantial, it was very overwhelming," said Margulis.

And at trial, one of the most critical pieces of evidence would be time of death. The prosecution maintains the three victims were killed hours before Coleman left the house to go to the gym.

"The bodies were stiff ... they had rigor mortis ... that everything pointed that they were dead by at least 3:00 in the morning," said reporter Nick Pistor.

"It could've been the whole case, quite frankly," said Prosecutor Ed Parkinson.

The defense insists that Sheri, Garett, and Gavin could have been killed that morning, during the hour and 10 minutes that Coleman was gone.

"You can use various formulas...the time of death is not an exact science," said Margulis.

As investigators kept building their case, something was troubling them about that trail of threatening letters and emails.

"It read: "If I can't get to Joyce then I will get to someone close to her," said Det. Justin Barlow.

"We didn't find anybody else who had received messages that were threatening to their family," said Chief Joe Edwards.

The prosecution's computer experts discovered there was good reason for that.

"Those threats were typed on his laptop," Parkinson told Maher.

"The email threats that came to him originated from..."

"...his own laptop," said Parkinson.

Those threats were sent from an account called destroychris@gmail.com. Defense attorney Bill Margulis insists someone else could have sent them.

"Anybody that had access to his computer, whether it was a co-worker or anybody else could've created that account," Margulis explained.

Investigators still had no so-called "smoking gun;" No DNA, no murder weapon and no eyewitness. But after analyzing the blood-red paint in those frightening messages on the walls, they believed they had something close to it.

"One can of that exact spray paint was purchased at a local hardware store. And the computerized signature said Christopher Coleman," said Edwards.

"You cannot paint that much without paint being somewhere on you," Ron Coleman said. "They literally cut him to the quick ... he pulled his own hair out for them ... there was not a trace of paint."

But if Coleman was the killer, it made a scene on the surveillance video -- recorded the afternoon before the bodies were discovered -- all the more chilling.

"It's a perfect suburban scene ... he played catch with his son at the house," Pistor said. "...and then, the next morning, they're dead. ...It's unexplainable."

Chris Coleman did not take the stand.

In a case that was gut-wrenching for everyone involved, it turns out, the jury was no exception.

"I didn't wanna believe that he could do that," said juror Gina West.

"I cried myself to sleep," juror Olivia Shopinski said. "Absolutely unimaginable. I mean, there's just so much hate. It's just hatred spread everywhere."

The first vote inside that jury room was 7 to 5, not guilty, but not because they believed Coleman was innocent.

"I mean, we all thought he did it. Who else would have done it?" said jury foreperson Jonece Pearman.

But many of the jurors were troubled by the circumstantial nature of the case.

"You wanted factual, tangible evidence that said he did it?" Maher asked.

"Make 'em prove it," said West.

As the deliberations entered a second day, crowds gathered outside the courthouse, the tension mounting. Sheri's mother remained optimistic.

"We will get justice for my daughter and my grandsons," Angela DiCiccio told reporters outside the courthouse. "I have what they call the mother instinct. I am very confident."

Incredibly, it was the jurors own detective work that, they say, pushed them over the top. When they looked at the back of a picture of Chris Coleman and Tara Lintz kissing, they noticed it was taken on Oct. 21, 2008.

"I think actually what I said was, 'Oh my God.' And I said, 'What was the date that he said the affair started?'" Pearman recalled.

"Yeah, the dates didn't match," West affirmed.

"Which wasn't til November -- and the picture was created in October," Pearman continued. "October, way before they said they had been seeing each other."

"And what did that say to you?" Maher asked Pearman.

"That was something black and white in front of my face that said if he could lie about this, he's lying about everything," she said.

After 15 hours of deliberations, the verdict was guilty. The crowd outside the courthouse erupted in applause and cheers.

"I had never seen anything like what happened on the lawn of the courthouse that night," said Pistor.

The verdict was handed down on May 5, 2011, two years to the day that Sheri, Garett, and Gavin were found murdered.

"I walked outta the courtroom and the first words out of my mouth, 'Yes, we did it, we got justice," Angela DiCiccio said.

The judge sentenced Coleman to life in prison, in part, because the State of Illinois' repeal of the death penalty was just months away from taking effect.

"48 Hours" spoke to Chris Coleman by phone, because cameras were not allowed inside the prison:

Maureen Maher: Did you kill your wife and your children?

Chris Coleman: No, absolutely not. I absolutely love my wife and my kids. And this, you know, it's not, it's not me.

Maureen Maher: How do you love your wife and be having an affair with one of her best friends?

Chris Coleman: Well...just because maybe I wasn't, you know, selfishly getting what I thought I...should be getting at home...from the physical side of things. But I still absolutely loved her.

Coleman denies he was planning to divorce Sheri to marry his mistress, Tara Lintz:

Maureen Maher: So why does Tara say that?

Chris Coleman: It was discussed on several different things...and you know, it was a conversation...but there was no specific plans or no dates...or nobody asking each other to be married or anything like that.

Maureen Maher: She also says that you told her that you were...serving divorce papers to Sheri.

Chris Coleman: You know, unfortunately, and I feel horrible about it... if I ever talk to Tara again, that would be something that I apologize to her about...that was a lie. ...I lied to Tara about that.

So if he didn't murder his family, who did?

Chris Coleman: I have absolutely no clue. Believe me, I have wracked my brain for two-and-a-half years trying to figure that part out. ...I just had to stop and give it to God, just release that and do my best to forgive that person and move on.

Forgiving and moving on has been difficult for Sheri's friends, who are still struggling to understand this incomprehensible crime.

"As a Christian, I feel like it's imperative that I forgive, because Jesus forgave me. And I want to forgive with all my heart," Kathy LaPlante said, choking up.

"What makes it so hard to do that?" Maher asked.

"Because they were so innocent," she said.

Sheri's family and friends want to ensure that she, Garett and Gavin are never forgotten. They've been raising money to help victims of domestic violence. And they hope to build a new Little League field and name it after those two young boys who loved to play ball.

"The boys had their whole life ahead of them...they didn't deserve it," Vanessa Riegerix said. "This should've never happened. Shoulda never happened."

After a long legal battle with the Colemans, Sheri's family was allowed to rebury Sheri and her sons in a cemetery closer to their home in Chicago.

Chris Coleman is appealing his conviction.

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