Mueller’s attorney seeks to suppress statements in murder-for-hire case

Stenger contends his client’s statements were coerced.

By EVAN YOUNG

Steven Mueller met two federal investigators on the morning of Feb. 27, 2009, in the parking lot of a south county Home Depot.

He was about to take them to the Franklin County field where authorities on Oct. 22, 1992, found a charred truck containing the burned and beaten body of St. Louis resident Danny Coleman.

Mueller had failed a lie-detector test only the day before and afterward admitted to having firsthand knowledge of Coleman’s death.

Before long the Oakville man would join Coleman’s wife and a former Mehlville Fire Protection District firefighter to face charges of conspiring to commit murder-for-hire — and carrying it out.

“You know, you don’t need to do this,” special agent Theodore Heitzler told Mueller before they drove off.

“No, I want to clear the air,” Mueller said. “I’ve been living with this for 17 years.”

A U.S. magistrate recently recommended a trial judge deny a pretrial motion to suppress as evidence statements Mueller made to investigators relating to Danny Coleman’s murder on nine occasions from Feb. 24 to April 17, 2009.

Mueller’s attorney, Steve Stenger, contends authorities coerced those statements from his client and didn’t advise him of his Fifth Amendment constitutional rights.

But U.S. Magistrate David Noce wrote in his report and recommendations that authorities read Mueller his Miranda rights during seven of the nine meetings. During the other two interviews, Mueller was not strong-armed to talk and had legal counsel present, respectively, according to the report.

Stenger has filed an objection to the judge’s recommendation. He declined to discuss what Mueller specifically told authorities, but said it’s necessary to object to appeal issues of fact when the case goes to trial.

Noce’s report, however, depicts Mueller as cooperative, and also sheds some light on his interactions with authorities before and immediately after his arrest last April.

Karen Coleman and former Mehlville firefighter James Kornhardt were arrested Dec. 12, 2008, in connection with Danny Coleman’s murder.

While in custody at the St. Louis County Justice Center Dec. 19, the report states Kornhardt called his wife and three daughters at their Dittmer home. He also, according to the judge’s report, spoke with “someone named Steve,” whom he told to “remove some items” from Kornhardt’s home.

The call was recorded, and authorities soon after identified “Steve” as Mueller after a phone company supplied the name of the subscriber of the cell phone number Mueller gave to Kornhardt during the call.

FBI Task Force Officer Jeffrey Roediger served Mueller with a grand jury subpoena Feb. 19, 2009. Mueller met with authorities for 40 minutes on Feb. 24. While they only considered him to be a witness at the time, investigators wanted to know what Mueller removed from Kornhardt’s home.

He agreed to take a polygraph test.

On the morning of Feb. 26, Mueller arrived at the St. Louis office of the Federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. There, an agent administered a two-hour polygraph test, asking Mueller about his actions on Dec. 19, including what he did after the Kornhardt phone call.

Mueller failed the test.

After lunch, he admitted to ATF officers that on Dec. 19 he removed a revolver, silencer and ammunition from “behind wallboard material” in Kornhardt’s garage. He drove to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge and threw them into the Mississippi River.

Mueller then drew officers a picture of the silencer and a map of the field where Danny Coleman’s body and truck were found.

“Mueller said he was concerned he could get into trouble for getting rid of evidence and failing the polygraph examination,” Noce wrote in his report. “The officers told Mueller that, if he told them the truth about what he took out of the garage, he would not be charged with that. They asked him whether he would be willing to continue cooperating … Mueller was very cooperative. He said he wanted to clean up what he had said and help the investigation.”

After meeting at Home Depot the following morning, Feb. 27, Mueller and investigators drove to the field where he “re-enacted the events of Oct. 22, 1992.” They drove to the Jefferson Barracks Bridge, and Mueller pointed out the spot from which he tossed over the revolver, silencer and ammo from Kornhardt’s garage.

On March 4, Mueller was interviewed by a U.S. attorney before testifying in front of a grand jury.

“(D)uring this interview, Mueller told the agents that he had received a telephone call from Diane Kornhardt, James Kornhardt’s wife. She gave Mueller a phone number of a lawyer to call. Then, Mueller telephoned the lawyer,” Noce stated in his report. “After the call, Mueller told the agents that the lawyer told him he could invoke his Fifth Amendment right to not say anything to them. However, Mueller also told the agents that he did not want a lawyer, but wanted to continue cooperating with them.”

He agreed to provide investigators with a letter Kornhardt wrote him, as well as photos of cars — “including the one he drove in 1992.”

Mueller then testified before the grand jury, ate lunch in the federal courthouse cafeteria and was driven home. He was interviewed again March 31 and agreed to take a second polygraph test the next day.

On April 1, Mueller returned to the ATF’s St. Louis office, where he was given another two-hour polygraph. He failed.

Authorities then conducted another, four- to five-hour interview with Mueller, during which he hand-wrote a statement about “what happened” in the murder of Danny Coleman and agreed to take investigators to the house in which Coleman was killed.

“Mueller was then told he was being placed under arrest, pending the filing of a federal criminal complaint,” according to Noce’s report. “Mueller was taken to the St. Louis County Justice Center for incarceration. No questions were asked of him during the drive to the jail. However, he requested and received an opportunity to call his parents. He spoke with his mother.

“He then told the agents that he was fearful about his and his family’s safety because of his cooperation with law enforcement authorities. As a result, Officer Roediger arranged for the St. Louis County Police to specially patrol his parents’ residence. At the jail, Mueller was not placed in the general prisoner population, because James Kornhardt was also being jailed there.”

On April 2, the report stated, “Mueller guided the investigators as they all drove to the locations that related to the Coleman murder. He also drew a diagram of the house and the location in the house where Coleman was killed … Following the conclusion of the interview and the exercise with Mueller, Mueller was taken to the federal courthouse in St. Louis for processing on the complaint.”

He again accompanied authorities April 8 when they executed a search warrant “for the murder scene location which Mueller had identified.”

Karen Coleman, Kornhardt and Mueller each are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and one count of murder-for-hire. Kornhardt also is charged with obstruction of justice.

The federal indictment alleges the three “… 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.”

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.

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.

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 residence on Michigan Avenue in St. Louis city, according to the indictment.

Karen Coleman, Kornhardt and Mueller’s trial tentatively is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Monday, March 1, in Courtroom 12 North at the Thomas Eagleton U.S. District Courthouse in St. Louis.