Killer Candidate

Page 5 of 8

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.

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.

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.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Sarah Fenske
Contact: Sarah Fenske