Sheri Coleman and her sons were strangled the day her husband had told his girlfriend that Sheri would be served with divorce papers, a police chief testified Wednesday in the fullest telling yet of details in the case.

But her husband Christopher Coleman’s employer, televangelist Joyce Meyer, has a policy against employing people who divorce, said the witness, Columbia, Ill., Police Chief Joe Edwards. He said Coleman “would end up losing his job.”

If that provided a motive, Edwards’ description of the forensic evidence provided a damning timeline at the preliminary hearing. Autopsies showed the victims were dead no less than about 45 minutes — and perhaps more than six hours — before Christopher Coleman left their house May 5 for a morning workout.

Circuit Judge Dennis Doyle ruled there is sufficient evidence to hold Coleman, 32, for trial on three counts of first-degree murder. That decision takes the place of a grand jury indictment.

The small courtroom in Waterloo was packed with nearly 50 reporters and onlookers — among them a woman in a black T-shirt depicting an electric chair and the message, “I saved you a seat.”

Monroe County State’s Attorney Kris Reitz has not said whether he will seek a death sentence, which Illinois allows in cases of multiple killings or murders of children.

His questions for Edwards weaved a web of evidence in the Waterloo courtroom that the defense did not challenge.

— The victims likely were killed between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., but not later than 5 a.m. Coleman told police his wife was alive when he left their home at 2854 Robert Avenue for a Gold’s Gym in south St. Louis County about 5:45 a.m. A security camera aimed at the Colemans’ home indicated he left the house at 5:43. A camera at the gym put him there about 6 a.m.

— An Illinois State Police handwriting expert said Coleman “probably” wrote the obscenities and other words spray-painted on walls at the murder scene. Also, the killer painted an obscenity on the sheets of the bed where one of the boys’ bodies lay.

— Threatening notes Coleman reported to police before the killings, which purported to relate to his work as Meyer’s security manager, were linked by experts to the laptop computer Coleman used for work. Moreover, examination of some of his documents showed that in other writings he had misspelled a word the same way it was misspelled on one of the notes.

— Coleman told a police chaplain at the murder scene that he did not know how he got an abrasion on his arm, but shortly thereafter punched an ambulance gurney and told his father that was how he got hurt.

Coleman has pleaded not guilty and waived his right under Illinois law to a speedy trial.

Edwards offered several details about a love affair Coleman allegedly conducted with a friend of his wife in Florida. The chief did not use her name, but she has been identified in court documents as Tara Lintz, of Largo, Fla.

Reached by cell phone Wednesday, Lintz responded: “Yeah, I’m not gonna talk, thanks.”

Edwards explained that Coleman told police he had talked by phone with a friend of his wife from Florida about their “body parts” in such a way that his wife would not appreciate. The chief said Coleman claimed they did not have a physical relationship.

But Edwards said the girlfriend told police they “routinely” met at locations where Coleman traveled for the Joyce Meyer Ministries. Edwards said the couple also exchanged sexually explicit videos of themselves.

The affair began Nov. 5, Edwards testified. The ministry had a conference in Tampa on Nov. 6-8, according to its online schedule. Law enforcement sources told the Post-Dispatch Coleman also met with Lintz in Arizona and Hawaii.

The two planned to marry next year, and the woman was looking for work in the St. Louis area, according to Edwards. He said Coleman told her May 4 that Sheri would be served with divorce papers the next day.

Edwards said the girlfriend provided Coleman with a cell phone that was not accessible to the ministry or his wife. Also, Coleman had numerous credit cards — some held jointly with his girlfriend and some that included his girlfriend’s and his wife’s names.

Coleman told authorities he had a good marriage, with a difficult period a year ago that was resolved with marriage counseling, Edwards testified.

The witness said a faceplate from a digital video recorder was found along Interstate 255, in the westbound shoulder of the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, which is Coleman’s logical path from home to the gym. Edwards said the device matches receipts of a recorder purchased for use with Coleman’s home security camera system but that was missing from the home.

There was no mention at the hearing of the reported discovery along I-255 of a glove possibly stained with spray paint, or a piece of twine similar to that used to bind straw bales in the Coleman’s back yard.

Police previously have said that a ligature was used to strangle Sheri Coleman, 31, and sons Garett, 11, and Gavin, 9. All were found dead in their beds.

The usual court rule against hearsay testimony does not apply in a preliminary hearing, so Edwards testified in place of what would be many witnesses at a full trial.

Anticipating the possibility of a capital trial, Judge Doyle asked Coleman if he wanted to keep his defense lawyers, father-son team Art and William Margulis, who are not on Illinois’ list of death case-qualified attorneys. Coleman indicated he did.

Later, both lawyers told reporters that they have begun the process of seeking a waiver from the Illinois Supreme Court. “We’ve tried many capital cases,” Art Margulis said.

Some of Sheri Coleman’s relatives from the Chicago area attended the hearing. “We view this as another step in the long road to the conviction of Chris Coleman,” said Enrico J. Mirabelli, her cousin.

Later Wednesday, the family presented Cardinals tickets and signed jerseys to two Columbia boys who raised more than $5,000 for a memorial to Sheri, Garett and Gavin.

Christopher Coleman’s parents left the courthouse without talking to reporters. A spokesman for the Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in Jefferson County, could not be reached.

Coleman showed little emotion during the hearing, alternately staring at Edwards, looking down and taking notes. He is held without bail in the Monroe County Jail.

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