Karen Coleman pleads guilty in contract killing of husband

Selection of jury completed in trial for Kornhardt, Mueller.

By EVAN YOUNG

An Arnold woman charged in the contract killing of her husband nearly 18 years ago pleaded guilty last week, four days before she and two alleged co-conspirators were to stand trial for the crime.

Karen K. Coleman entered a guilty plea on June 3 before U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw to one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and one felony count of murder-for-hire in connection with the October 1992 murder of her husband, Danny H. Coleman of St. Louis.

She will be sentenced at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 31, before Shaw.

Karen Coleman had pleaded not guilty after her indictment in December 2008. Her alleged co-conspirators, former Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighter James K. Kornhardt and Steven A. Mueller, have pleaded not guilty to the same charges.

Kornhardt also has pleaded not guilty to one count of obstruction of justice.

A federal indictment alleges Karen Coleman, Kornhardt and Mueller “did unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire and agree to commit … the crime of murder for hire … with the intent that the murder of Danny H. Coleman be committed … as a consideration for the receipt of and consideration for a promise and agreement to pay things of pecuniary value, namely money, along with other benefits. Said conspiracy offense resulted in the death of Danny H. Coleman on Oct. 22, 1992.”

Jury selection for Kornhardt and Mueller’s trial was completed Monday. In exchange for Karen Coleman’s testimony, Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Dittmeier said the prosecution would recommend she be sentenced to not less than 20 years in prison.

During a hearing the morning of June 3 — before Karen Coleman pleaded guilty at an unannounced hearing that afternoon — Shaw denied motions by Kornhardt and Mueller to delay the trial.

Kornhardt’s attorney, Scott Rosenblum, said last week he wanted additional time so a crime-scene expert from Wisconsin could visit the home on Michigan Avenue in St. Louis where Danny Coleman was killed. Further DNA evidence at the crime scene may help Kornhardt’s defense, Rosenblum said.

But the judge told Rosenblum to get any further discovery done before Monday.

Mueller’s attorney, Steven Stenger, said his client was “hearing voices” in his head, one of which told Mueller, who is in federal custody, to “hang himself in his jail cell.”

Stenger questioned a recent mental evaluation of Mueller that stated he had no mental illnesses and was competent to stand trial. Stenger said he thought the evaluation was “limited in scope” and asked for more time to conduct another evaluation with a different doctor.

“It certainly leaves questions in my mind as defense counsel,” Stenger told Shaw of Mueller’s mental evaluation.

The judge, however, contended Stenger was disagreeing with the evaluation simply because “you didn’t get the diagnosis you wanted.”

“That’s expected of you,” he told Stenger.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Rea suggested Mueller merely was suffering from depression and anxiety.

“And as we get closer to trial,” Rea said last week, “his anxiety is getting higher.”

Kornhardt of Dittmer was a firefighter with the MFPD from 1992 until his termination last year following his December 2008 arrest and indictment. He also was the vice president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters at the time of his arrest.

Mueller of Oakville ran unsuccessfully for the MFPD Board of Directors in April 2005. He was arrested in April 2009 after spending nearly two months cooperating with federal investigators and gradually revealing his knowledge of the 1992 murder, according to a report released earlier this year by a U.S. magistrate judge.

In 1990, Karen Coleman recruited Larry Nolan to arrange the murder of her husband so that she could collect on several insurance policies, the indictment alleges.

Nolan, who died in prison in 1997, recruited Kornhardt to commit the murder, according to the indictment.

Karen Coleman agreed to pay Nolan and Kornhardt from the proceeds of the insurance policies, the indictment states.

In October 1992, Karen Coleman mailed a letter to Nolan outlining Danny Coleman’s activities, movement, habits and other information so Kornhardt would have knowledge and access to him, according to the indictment. The indictment states, “It was further part of the conspiracy that in or about October 1992, James K. Kornhardt recruited and solicited Steven A. Mueller to assist in the murder of Danny H. Coleman. Steven A. Mueller agreed to carry out the murder of Danny H. Coleman with James K. Kornhardt.”

On Oct. 22, 1992, Danny Coleman left work at roughly 4 p.m. The indictment alleges, “Danny H. Coleman was later murdered by James K. Kornhardt and Steven A. Mueller. Danny H. Coleman’s body and truck were found burnt in an isolated field located in Franklin County, Mo. James K. Kornhardt discarded a box of matches in the isolated field after setting the fire.”

The indictment states the cause of death was massive blunt force trauma to Danny Coleman’s head and face and his death certificate “noted that most of Danny H. Coleman’s body was consumed by fire.”

After her husband’s death, Karen Coleman began collecting on insurance policies, including claims for loss on Danny Coleman’s truck.

Karen Coleman agreed to pay Kornhardt and Nolan from the proceeds of the insurance policies, the indictment alleges. Court records also allege that Kornhardt paid Mueller “in excess of $1,000 for his participation in the murder of Danny H. Coleman.”

Furthermore, she collected payment from the Liberty Life Insurance Co. and First Nationwide Mortgage Corp. of the outstanding principal, interest, escrow and insurance paid on their Michigan Avenue residence, according to the indictment.

A second superseding indictment handed up in June 2009 alleges Kornhardt “corruptly persuaded another person with the intent to cause or induce the person to destroy and/or conceal, among other things, firearms, a silencer and ammunition with the intent to impair the objects’ integrity and/or availability for use in an official proceeding, including, but not limited to, trial and a federal grand jury investigation.”

Court records state, “On Dec. 19, 2008, and while incarcerated, Kornhardt recruited and solicited Mueller to locate and remove a revolver, silencer and box of ammunition from the garage located on Kornhardt’s Dittmer, Mo., property. Mueller agreed. Mueller located and removed the revolver, silencer and box of ammunition on Dec. 19, 2008.

“Later that same date, Mueller traveled to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, where he disposed of the items.”