Killer Candidate

Three years ago, Dan Coleman shot his girlfriend's sister point-blank in the face with a .38. She died that night, and within a week, he was charged with first-degree murder.

And so it is more than a little odd that Dan Coleman is now having lunch at Macayo's in downtown Phoenix, asking the waiter to bring him a vat of the hottest salsa they have, please, and talking about illegal immigration.

Coleman, 35, is running for state representative. He looks the part, with his slightly doughy features and his standard-issue polo shirt, and his beliefs are run-of-the-mill Arizona Republican: He believes in the right to bear arms. He thinks Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided. He's in favor of the death penalty.

But there's something surreal about discussing the death penalty over lunch with someone who, just last year, was facing it. Not to mention that here's a guy who could still face charges for shooting an unarmed woman, but who volunteers, cheerfully, that he owns an arsenal of guns, including semi-automatics and silencers.

Indeed, there is something very strange about Dan Coleman, something that begs a few serious questions:

Namely, who shoots a woman in the head, kills her, gets the charges thrown out, and then decides to run for public office?

And, on a more basic level, who is this guy?

Even in this state of unlikely politicians, of car dealers who use words like "pickaninny" and blue-blood developers who leave office in disgrace after being charged with defrauding investors, it's possible there's never been a candidate with a résumé as bizarre as Dan Coleman's. And the strangest part of all is that Dan Coleman doesn't have a problem with that. Not one bit.

Because Coleman is convinced he didn't do anything wrong, he doesn't understand why the shooting should even matter, much less define him.

"When he said he was going to run for office, I warned him that they'd be trying to bring this thing up," says Coleman's friend Michael Hagerty. "And he said, 'Why should it matter with what I'm doing now?' He can't understand why it didn't go away quicker."

It's an odd lack of understanding for someone who lived for so many years in Cochise County, where people have spent the past 125 years hashing out Wyatt Earp and his gunfight. (Indeed, Coleman's stepfather is among the people who've devoted their lives to the hashing.)

And Coleman's defining moment, no matter how his supporters try to shade it, wasn't a showdown between a marshal and an outlaw. That, people might understand.

But while Coleman was arguably acting in self-defense, this was a showdown between an unarmed woman and a guy with a gun.

And so it's remarkable that only if prodded does Coleman express even the barest trace of regret over what happened that night in April 2003.

And that, though he didn't plan to run as a guy who'd been charged with murder, now that the word is out, he's not all uncomfortable using it for his own ends.

"I'd rather talk about the issues," Coleman says, fixing his blue eyes intently, then offering a careless shrug. "But if this is what gets me in the papers, I'll take this."

Even before the shooting, even before people in Cochise County had a good excuse to dislike Dan Coleman, they disliked him.

His friends will admit that. So does his stepfather. They just frame it somewhat differently — as jealousy. (The people who don't like Coleman, on the other hand, say they recognized him as a jerk even before he gave them irrefutable evidence to prove it.)

Coleman and his family were a big deal in Cochise County, once. His mother, Jane Candia Coleman, is a respected Western author, with books of poetry, memoir, and fiction to her name. His stepfather, Glenn Boyer, wrote a popular biography of Wyatt Earp's wife, Josephine, that only made Boyer more famous when his methods came under fire from historians. A relentless self-promoter, Boyer claims that his work alone "reestablished the reputation of Wyatt Earp," and, directly or indirectly, was responsible for a half-billion dollars in tourist money in Arizona.

Dan Coleman, too, used to be a big man around town. He flew in a private jet. He drove a Jaguar and openly pondered a political career; perhaps, as he wrote in an e-mail to a girlfriend, he'd run for sheriff.

But today the area bears no trace of Coleman or his family, other than the small stone memorial to Annette Chalker in the parking lot of the country store.

They've all left town.

Coleman's stepfather, Boyer, lived in this part of Arizona for 31 years and made his name chronicling its history, but he vows never to set foot in the county again. He's livid at the way local law enforcement handled his stepson's case.