Joyce Meyer testifies in secret for Coleman murder trial

St. Louis Post-Dispatch/April 7, 2011

Waterloo - Televangelist Joyce Meyer emerged from the courthouse in Waterloo on Wednesday and said she testified "honestly and truthfully" in a closed pretrial deposition in the murder trial of her former bodyguard, Christopher Coleman.

But she said she would honor a request not to reveal the substance of what was said.

The testimony was originally slated to be public. But on Wednesday afternoon, bailiffs locked the courtroom doors and inexplicably announced that the proceedings would be private.

The doors were briefly reopened after a Post-Dispatch lawyer filed a motion challenging the closed proceedings. Circuit Judge Milton Wharton denied the motion and excluded reporters and the public, saying it was not a public judicial proceeding because he would not be overseeing it. He later drove away.

Wharton said no one had requested that the session be closed. He said the recordings will be played in open court later, during the trial, giving the public a chance to hear the testimony.

"The risks outweigh the benefits," Wharton said, adding that the public disclosure of Meyer's testimony could lead to a mistrial.

Coleman attended the session.

The drama of the case - a mix of sex, religion and murder - has commanded nearly constant media attention since Coleman, 34, was charged with first-degree murder in the May 2009 strangulation of his wife, Sheri, and two sons.

On Wednesday, Joyce Meyer swept into the courthouse amid a flurry of reporters and cameras shortly before 2 p.m. to make the recorded sworn statement.

She exited about 3:30 p.m., with lawyers and staff, and made a brief statement. When a reporter inquired whether she was praying for Coleman, she replied, "Certainly." She left in a black Chrysler 300 sedan.

Her son, Dan Meyer, chief executive of U.S. operations for the Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in Fenton, testified later in the day. He is a longtime friend of Coleman's. He left a little after 4 p.m. and would only say that he had testified truthfully.

Joyce Meyer's arrival at the courthouse marked her first appearance in a public setting connected to the case since May 5, 2009, when she visited Coleman's home in Columbia, Ill., to show support the morning his family was found slain.

Prosecutors said that Meyer will not be available during Coleman's murder trial, which is scheduled for jury selection next week and opening statements April 25. She and her son gave their testimony in Wednesday's depositions instead.

Meyer is holding a "conference tour" event April 28-30 in Hampton, Va., according to her website.

Mario DeCicco, Sheri Coleman's brother, has said he is upset that Meyer is recording a statement in place of appearing at trial in person.

"Three innocent people, including two beautiful boys, lost their lives for absolutely no good reason, and I find Joyce Meyer's actions to be extremely cowardly and not surprising," DeCicco said.

Both Joyce Meyer and Dan Meyer are major figures in the drama.

Christopher Coleman was earning a six-figure salary and traveling around the globe as the security chief for Meyer.

Friends of his wife, Sheri Coleman, have testified that she told them she was afraid of him, and that he felt she and the boys were in the way of his career. They also claimed that Sheri Coleman said her husband did not see divorce as an option, because it would cost him his job.

Officials said that Coleman, who was having an affair with a woman in Florida, may have killed his family to escape his marriage without a divorce.

Kathy LaPlante, a close friend of Sheri Coleman's and former secretary to Dan Meyer, has told authorities that Sheri Coleman informed Dan Meyer that Chris Coleman wanted a divorce.

"They told him that he would have to have marriage counseling and if he would not be willing to work through this that they would have to reassign him to another position," LaPlante wrote in a police statement. "Chris called Sheri and really exploded."

LaPlante said Christopher Coleman "begrudgingly" participated in counseling with a ministry pastor, Mike Shepard, and that Sheri Coleman described her husband as "cold and distant."

Coleman is held without bail. The prosecution plans to seek the death sentence.

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