Killer Candidate

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

But the law on this point is complicated.

After all, by Gail's account, Annette did barge into the house. And the law allowed Coleman to arm himself to defend against an intruder.

Once he was allowed to brandish the gun, if it went off accidentally in the heat of the moment, he was legally covered in a way he wouldn't be on the street, says his attorney, Matthew Borowiec.

Coleman now hopes to represent Laveen in the state Legislature.
Peter Scanlon
Coleman now hopes to represent Laveen in the state Legislature.

The sheriff's department may not have wanted to acknowledge that. That very morning, they arrested Coleman and charged him with first-degree murder.

Boyer believes the sheriff acted out of hatred toward his family. Boyer had complained, five years before, about a deputy who trespassed on his property, gun cocked. He believes the department had it in for him, and his stepson, ever since. (The Cochise County detective on the case did not return calls for comment.)

"Vindictive and malevolent and crooked," Boyer says of the department's actions.

And maybe Boyer is right. Hagerty, for one, says the officer who interviewed him was interested only in dirt on Coleman.

"He dismissed me because I wasn't knocking Dan the way they were in town," Hagerty says.

But maybe the sheriff was simply troubled by the idea of a man shooting an unarmed woman — a man who then refused to answer any questions about his actions. And it couldn't have helped to hear all the stories from people in Rodeo who hated Coleman.

Either way, it would take Cochise County Judge Wallace R. Hoggatt just two months to throw the charge out. The prosecutors simply hadn't presented enough evidence for first-degree murder, he wrote. He sent the case back for the prosecutors to gather more evidence, or drop entirely.

But that didn't mean Coleman was home free — or that he was ready to apologize and move on.

After Judge Hoggatt threw out the murder charge, Coleman didn't respond by thanking God that he'd been let off the hook after a relatively short ordeal.

Nor did he publicly mourn the fact that he'd killed someone, whether his actions were legally defensible or not.

He was indignant about how he'd been treated. And he was ready to pick a fight.

"I think he'd been in shock after it happened," says Randy Norrick. "And the unfortunate thing is that, immediately, he had to deal with his defense. . . . You get to the other side of it, where you get angry that you're being prosecuted, beyond what the law should be.

"I think that's really incredibly difficult to deal with," Norrick adds. "One day, you're making a lot of money. And the next day, you're in jail. And people don't realize how fast the money goes."

Coleman believed that he had been wronged. And it didn't feel like an innocent mistake.

In January 2004, he filed a letter notifying the county of his intent to sue over its "malicious prosecution." He'd spent $40,000 in legal fees, he wrote, and lost a contract with the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

He would settle, he wrote, for $1.8 million.

Then, in April, he filed a libel suit against Annette's closest friends, Colby Rawson and Linda Runion.

The suit doesn't accuse them of spreading lies to the media. (Both say they never talked to a single reporter.) Instead, the suit focuses on statements they made to the sheriff's detectives — and rumors they supposedly spread around town.

Coleman never did sue the county. And his suit against Rawson and Runion ended up backfiring, badly.

He almost won on default, since Rawson and Runion were too broke to hire an attorney. But then they found Rick Gonzales. A veteran of the Tucson scene, Gonzales had represented Annette Chalker's young sons in the family's wrongful-death suit.

He had no respect for Coleman — and no fear of him, either.

"I was a public defender," Gonzales says. "I knew this was not a killer. In my sense, through everything I gather in looking at this case and the people that I talked to, he was nothing more than a bully. This was a bully who's always had his mommy and daddy to cover his butt."

Once Gonzales signed on to defend the libel charges, he called Coleman for a deposition. Specifically, he wanted to ask about something that Linda Runion claimed Coleman had told her just after the murder: "I shot the fucking bitch."

But Coleman, facing the possibility that the county would refile criminal charges, was forced to plead his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

And that made it impossible for Coleman to prove that Runion was lying — or even proceed with the suit. Gonzales says the judge issued a ruling for his clients. Coleman, he says, may now be on the hook for as much as $27,000 in legal fees.

By then, though, the libel suit was the least of Coleman's worries — because, to Coleman's shock, Cochise County Attorney Ed Rheinheimer was building another criminal case against him.

Rheinheimer wasn't in office at the time of the first charges. But he'd been bothered by the way the charges had been dismissed so quickly, and he assigned a young prosecutor to look into building a better case.

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