Kornhardt, Coleman both plead not guilty to federal conspiracy, murder-for-hire charges

Defense attorney asks judge to release Kornhardt on bail


A U.S. District Court judge had yet to decide by press time whether a Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighter in custody on federal conspiracy and murder-for-hire charges would be allowed bail.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Mary Ann Medler was set this week to review written arguments from Assistant U.S. Attorney Todd Dittmeier and defense attorney Scott Rosenblum to determine whether Mehlville firefighter James K. Kornhardt should be held in jail until trial.

The 49-year-old Kornhardt, who serves as vice president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, was arrested the morning of Dec. 12 at Mehlville Fire Protection District Firehouse No. 5 in Green Park by agents of the FBI and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Kornhardt of Dittmer and Karen K. Coleman of Arnold were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges related to the murder of Coleman’s husband, Danny Coleman, in October 1992.

Federal prosecutors say Karen Coleman paid Kornhardt and others to facilitate Danny Coleman’s murder so she could profit from several insurance policies. Kornhardt and Coleman both have pleaded not guilty.

Last week, Medler ordered that Coleman be held in jail awaiting trial because of her history of mental-health problems and use of cocaine and methamphetamine, which Dittmeier said Coleman last used on the day of her Dec. 12 arrest.

But Rosenblum told Medler at a Dec. 17 detention hearing that because of Kornhardt’s honorable military history, 24 years of experience as a firefighter and responsibilities as a married father of three children, Kornhardt is not a flight risk and should be granted bail. Rosenblum also noted that when Kornhardt previously was questioned in 2000 and 2003 about Danny Coleman’s death, he stayed put.

“He had ample opportunity to flee in 2000 and 2003 and has made absolutely no effort to do so,” Rosenblum told Medler. “… His intent is to stay here and defend himself.”

Rosenblum said Kornhardt would be willing to pledge $100,000 in equity on his Dittmer home if Medler set bail and added that some of Kornhardt’s other non-liquid finances could be used.

Rosenblum also said Kornhardt would be open to home detention, electronic monitoring or other forms of supervision “that will allow Mr. Kornhardt to stay with his family” if released on bail.

But Dittmeier argued that Kornhardt is “dangerous” and that “some co-conspirators (now cooperating with prosecutors) would be at risk” if Kornhardt is released on bail. Dittmeier noted that Kornhardt had a gun with a concealed-carry permit at the time of his Dec. 12 arrest.

Dittmeier added that evidence shows Kornhardt’s fingerprint was found on a box of matches discarded in bushes near the Franklin County field where Danny Coleman’s bludgeoned body was burned inside his truck.

“This is an extremely brutal murder where the victim was taken out to a vacant field and doused with gasoline,” Dittmeier said.

Rosenblum countered that government prosecutors were merely relying on the weight of Kornhardt’s possible life sentence as a reason to argue against bail.

“The court should not assume a person will flee if the charges are weighty,” Rosenblum said. “… If the court was going to take the government’s view, each and every individual would be detained on that basis.”

But Dittmeier replied that unlike 2000 and 2003, Kornhardt now knows that his fingerprint was found on a matchbox near the crime scene. Because of the evidence in the indictment against Kornhardt, Dittmeier said he is a “significant flight risk” and should be jailed until trial.

The federal indictment alleges Kornhardt and Karen Coleman “… did unlawfully, knowingly and intentionally combine, conspire and agree to commit an offense against the United States of America, that is, the crime of murder for hire in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1958, by using and causing another to use the United States mails and other facilities in interstate commerce with the intent that the murder of Danny H. Coleman be committed in violation of the laws of the state of Missouri, 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.”

In 1990, Karen Coleman recruited prison inmate Larry G. 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. In October 1992, Karen Coleman mailed a letter to Nolan explaining Danny Coleman’s activities, movement, habits and other information so Kornhardt would have knowledge and access to him, the indictment states. 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. 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.

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

The indictment states that Karen Coleman collected $11,039 from her husband’s employer and $51,982 from the General American Life Insurance Co.

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 residence on Michigan Avenue in St. Louis city.

Kornhardt, whose term as Local 1889 vice president ends Dec. 31, was placed on unpaid administrative leave by the MFPD Board of Directors the day of his arrest.

The board’s motion also states that if the charges are dismissed, Kornhardt will be eligible for pay reimbursement.

IAFF 2nd District Vice President Mark Woolbright stated in a Dec. 15 release that Local 1889 supports the board’s decision to place Kornhardt on unpaid leave and added that Kornhardt’s charges “have absolutely nothing to do with” the union.

MFPD Board Chairman Aaron Hilmer last week said he “wasn’t surprised” at Kornhardt’s arrest because he heard rumors since his election in April 2005.

“I hadn’t been in office for more than a week and I’d already heard rumors and mumblings about this very crime,” Hilmer said. “… What is surprising and disturbing is that if I knew this after being there a week, how much did fellow employees know when they elected him to be their union vice president?”