Orders, recommendations issued on motions in murder-for-hire case involving ex-firefighter

Former firefighter also faces obstruction of justice charge

By EVAN YOUNG

A U.S. magistrate recently issued orders and recommendations on pretrial motions in the murder-for-hire case involving a former Mehlville firefighter.

On Jan. 6, Judge David Noce signed a report of preliminary orders and recommendations on a series of pretrial motions filed by the U.S. government and defendants James Kornhardt and Steven Mueller.

A final ruling is pending on Noce’s orders and recommendations by U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw.

Kornhardt of Dittmer and Karen Coleman of Arnold were indicted in December 2008 by a federal grand jury on charges related to the murder of her husband, Danny Coleman, in October 1992.

In April, Mueller was indicted by a federal grand jury in the murder-for-hire case.

He is accused of assisting Kornhardt in Danny Coleman’s murder, according to the indictment.

Kornhardt was a firefighter with the Mehlville Fire Protection District from 1992 until his termination last year following his indictment. He also was the vice president of Local 1889 of the International Association of Fire Fighters at the time of his arrest.

Mueller is an Oakville resident who once ran for the MFPD Board of Directors.

Kornhardt, Mueller and Karen Coleman have been indicted on one felony count of conspiracy to commit murder for hire and one felony count of murder for hire. All three have pleaded not guilty and are in federal custody.

The federal indictment alleges the three defendants “… 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.”

Kornhardt also has been charged with obstruction of justice. A second superseding indictment handed up last June alleges he “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.”

In his report, among other things, Noce tentatively:

• Denied Kornhardt and Mueller’s motion for a bill of particulars “with respect to the manner in which Counts 1 and 2 (conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire and murder-for-hire) allege the defendants or any co-conspirator used facilities in interstate commerce …”

“Defendants seek an order that the government specifically describe the use of facilities in interstate commerce and the use or uses of the mail it will rely on at trial,” Noce wrote. “Defendants argue this information is necessary for their pretrial investigation and, as argued in other motions, to show that the indictment is legally insufficient because of the statute of limitations and the lack of a legally sufficient interstate nexus.”

Because the government has identified what evidence it will use during the trial and has properly informed the defense, a bill of particulars is “uncalled for,” Noce stated.

“If the government at trial offers evidence of some other use of interstate commerce, which it had not disclosed before trial, the court will be in a position to determine whether such (evidence) sufficiently surprised the defense and prejudiced it to warrant relief at that time,” he wrote.

• Recommended Kornhardt and Mueller’s motion to dismiss both murder-for-hire charges because they “contravene the five-year statute of limitations” be denied.

“Defendants argue that the death penalty is not an available penalty in this case,” Noce wrote, “and, in consequence, the unlimited statutory period is not applicable and the five-year limitation period has been exceeded.”

But the alleged conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire was ongoing when Congress added the death penalty as possible punishment for the crime, Noce stated.

Therefore, “these motions to dismiss should be denied as to Count 1 (conspiracy to commit murder-for-hire),” the judge wrote. “However, as to Count 2 (murder-for-hire), these motions should be sustained as to the alleged uses of the mail and of facilities of interstate commerce before Sept. 13, 1994, the effective date of the legislation that added the death penalty for violation of (U.S. Code) Section 1958.

“As to the Count 2 alleged uses of the mail and facilities of interstate commerce after the addition of the death penalty for violation of Section 1958, the motions should be denied.”

• Denied Kornhardt and Mueller’s motion to strike potentially “inflammatory” language from indictment.

The defense previously motioned for the following language in Count 1 of the indictment to be removed: “Danny H. Coleman’s death certificate identified massive blunt trauma to face and head and trauma caused by another person as the causes of his death. The death certificate noted that most of Danny H. Coleman’s body was consumed by fire.”

“Defendants point out that the count alleges they participated in a conspiracy that ended in the death of Danny H. Coleman,” Noce stated. “They argue that the … sentences … do not allege facts that indicate the alleged conspiracy and the facts described in the last two sentences are prejudicial because their graphic image will inflame the jury.

“The (court) concludes that the subject sentences describe facts that are relevant to the crimes alleged. Furthermore, the description of the alleged facts in these sentences is not excessive but is a somewhat objective description of the facts. Because the subject sentences allege relevant facts and are not inflammatory, theses motions will be denied.”

• Deferred to the district judge a motion by prosecutors to admit “statements of co-conspirators” as evidence at trial.

• Denied Kornhardt and Mueller’s motion to sever the three defendants and try them separately, “subject to the district court’s ruling on the government’s motion … to admit co-conspirators’ statements.”

On Dec. 30, Noce recommended Mueller’s motion to suppress evidence and certain statements made to law enforcement officials from Feb. 24 to April 17, 2009, be denied.

Mueller’s attorney, Steve Stenger, filed an objection to Noce’s recommendation last week.

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.