Killer Candidate

Would-be legislator Dan Coleman wants to talk issues. But his past is just so much more interesting

Rawson heard Annette open the door. She called out, "Where's Gailbert?" — the nickname she used for her little sister.

And then he heard a pop.

"I thought it was a door slamming or something," Rawson said.

The Rodeo Tavern — the only place in town to get a drink, and the place where Gail and Annette Chalker argued on the night of Annette's death.
Sarah Fenske
The Rodeo Tavern — the only place in town to get a drink, and the place where Gail and Annette Chalker argued on the night of Annette's death.
Annette Chalker with her two boys.
courtesy of Carol Chalker
Annette Chalker with her two boys.

He put the little boy back into the truck and walked up the porch into the house, with no idea that his entire life was about to change.

There, inside the house, was Annette.

"She's laying on her back, 20 feet from the door, bleeding profusely from a hole in her face," Rawson said. ". . . I went, 'Oh my God!' It was like, so unreal. I couldn't believe it was really happening. And I went over there and when — whenever her heart would pump blood, it would come out of that hole in her face.

"So I put my thumb on it and I . . . I couldn't believe it."

It took the police nearly an hour and a half to arrive on scene, and the EMTs weren't supposed to go into the house before police. So Rawson desperately performed CPR and tried to stanch the bleeding.

"The worst thing about it," he says now, "the thing that really got me — when I was on the floor doing CPR on her, he [Dan] was at the bar mixing a drink. Annette was the best thing in the world. But Gail wouldn't help me. Dan wouldn't help me. Nobody would help me."

Annette was pronounced dead before she ever reached the hospital.

The scene at the ranch was so confusing that, when deputies finally arrived, they handcuffed Annette's fiancé, Rawson, before they realized that it was actually Coleman who'd fired the gun.

And as for Dan Coleman, he invoked his Miranda rights. At the advice of his lawyer, he wouldn't answer any questions.

If roles had been reversed, and Annette Chalker had been a man and Dan Coleman a woman, there is no question things would have been different in the aftermath of the shooting.

After all, Annette did barge into Coleman's home while he was sleeping — and she had exchanged fiery words with her sister earlier in the night. Gail Chalker, the only eyewitness inside the house, would tell deputies that her sister had been belligerent and violent when she entered the house.

But while no one would think twice about forgiving a woman for shooting a male intruder in the head, they don't necessarily cut a man the same slack.

Coleman is six feet tall. While Annette Chalker was a drywaller who was used to working with her hands, she was only 5'8". She also had no record of attacking anyone.

Forensic tests would also show that, despite her sister's concerns, she had no drugs in her system. (With a 0.17 blood alcohol content, however, she was well over the legal limit.)

Coleman's refusal to talk may have convinced the deputies that he was hiding something. But Gail Chalker's statement put them in a quandary.

Gail has made numerous statements about the case over the years, including a deposition in her parents' wrongful-death suit against Coleman. (He settled.) But it's a videotape she made two days after the shooting that provides a visual testimony to the anguish she felt over her sister's death — and her immediate recollection of the event.

The video was filmed by Coleman's stepfather, Boyer, in his Tucson home. It records both Boyer and Coleman's mother as off-camera voices, prodding the surviving Chalker sisters to explain what they'd witnessed.

Carol Chalker refuses to answer any questions. When Boyer pushes, she announces, "I can't do it," and steps off camera. After drinking too much at the bar, Carol had slept through the shooting anyway.

But Gail, who was still involved with Dan Coleman, tried to be more helpful. Looking pale, and trying to fight off a panic attack, she describes being half asleep when she was aroused by a slamming door, then Dan Coleman calling out, "Who the fuck is in my house?"

She and Dan sprang out of bed. Since Gail was naked, she grabbed a shirt and held it in front of her.

As they came out of the bedroom, Gail says on tape, Annette cried, "You fucking bitch!" and reached for her throat.

"Her sister went for her throat, to try to strangle her," Glenn Boyer helpfully intones.

"I was holding my shirt," Gail says. "I think I dropped it — I reached for her — I never even, I remember reaching for her. I don't remember touching her.

"Dan was pushing her — and from that point I don't remember seeing from then. I think I reached for my shirt to put it on. I heard a shot — I remember standing there, buttoning my shirt, and seeing Annette laying there, and I remember looking at her legs and seeing no movement."

Then, on tape, Gail begins to weep.

"I think Dan was leaning over her. I didn't know if she'd fallen, if he'd pushed her — I didn't know."

As Gail describes it, the struggle was hardly a matter of life and death. Even if Annette "reached" for her sister's throat, she left no bruise marks. On the tape, even Gail indicates that she was never close to being strangled.

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