depression medications and alcohol mixed
death penalty won’t be pursued by county attorney
replica 1858 revolver found 1.5 miles from scene
BISBEE – The death penalty is off the table in the case against Jesse Lee Steel, the 48-year old Sunizona man charged with fatally shooting his neighbor Elizabeth Coleman on October 10. Deputy legal defender David Shapiro – Steel’s court appointed attorney – says the deadline has passed for the Cochise County Attorney’s Office to seek the death penalty, although Steel still faces the possibility of life in prison.
Court records indicate Elizabeth Coleman was shot about 4:15pm when she opened the door of the Coleman house. Her husband Sam was shot three times inside the home located on the 6800 block of E. Apache Dr. in the rural community of Sunizona, located halfway between Willcox and Douglas. Sam Coleman identified Steel – a neighbor and acquaintance – as their assailant.
Deputies with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office arrested Steel an hour later about 11 miles from the crime scene. On October 13 acounty grand jury indicted Steel on six felony counts: first degree murder, first degree attempted murder, and four counts of aggravated assault. Nothing in the court file mentions a motive for the shootings.
According to Pima County’s Office of the Medical Examiner, Elizabeth Coleman,
age 58, was shot twice in the head and died about ten minutes later. Forensic pathologist Christopher Geffre noted in the autopsy report that one shot struck Elizabeth just below the nose, cutting through her tongue before exiting the side of her neck. A large patch of gunpowder stippling was present on her face.
Geffre reported another shot struck Elizabeth at the top left of the back of her head. The bullet – which was recovered during the autopsy – had a trajectory from left to right, back to front, and downward.
husband shot 3 times, returns fire
Despite being shot in the right wrist, right shoulder, and right side of his abdomen, Sam Coleman ran toward his bedroom to retrieve his own gun. He told deputies that Steel followed him and at one point pistol-whipped Coleman on the head. Steel then left the house. Coleman reportedly ran back to the doorway by his wife and fired two shots at Steel who was standing by a truck in the driveway.
A report by lead detective Sgt. Tal Parker of the sheriff’s office notes both of Coleman’s shots struck the truck’s windshield and passed through the open driver’s door. Steel then fled the scene in the truck while Coleman called 911. Emergency responders arrived within minutes but Elizabeth Coleman was pronounced deceased at the scene.
Steel was arrested after he approached the owner of a local ranch. Deputies booking Steel in the county jail noticed a laceration on the lower right side of his chest so he was transported to Copper Queen Hospital for treatment of what appeared to be a wound from being grazed by a bullet. Steel was then returned to the jail where he remains in lieu of a $2 million bond ordered by Willcox justice of the peace Trevor Ward on October 11.
Documents filed with the court in the days after Steel’s arrest note that investigators believed the shooter used a “cap and ball” style revolver, possibly .44 caliber. However, no firearm was recovered from the crime scene or in searches of Steel’s vehicle and his residence. Parker noted that he suspected Steel “threw the weapon from the vehicle while traveling to the area where he was apprehended.”
On October 25 detective Parker obtained a search warrant from judge Ward based on information gleaned by authorities from an October 20 conversation between Steel and his mother during a video visitation at the jail. Steel’s mother commented at one point about moving her son’s personal items to a shed. (There is no indication this was done to conceal evidence rather than for safekeeping.)
The search warrant was for “weapons or weapons paraphernalia” within the
dwellings, outbuildings, and a travel trailer on the Steel property on the 6700 block of E. Apache Dr. During the search of one structure – referred to as “Jesse Steel’s shed” – deputies recovered a box for a gun cylinder used with a .44 caliber cap and ball, black powder 1858 Remington.
Then on November 16, deputies recovered a Uberti “firing replica of the 1858 Remington ‘cap & ball’ revolver” about 1.5 miles down the road from the Coleman home. A resident of the 6300 block of E. Apache Dr. found the gun inside a latched box while watering a large grove of trees. According to an affidavit by Parker, the weapon was modified to fire .45 long Colt ammo and its serial number was “buffed-down to bare metal.” The cartridges in the cylinder were in a “fired, expended condition.”
The gun was sent to the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety’s crime lab for examination and on January 11 the lab reported finding a latent print that could be compared to any suspects. On January 18 judge Ward ordered “the procurement of evidence” which allowed Parker to obtain “major crime prints” of Steel’s hands. As of February 7, the sheriff’s office reports no results have been received from the comparison.
pysch meds and alcohol on day of shooting
Court documents reveal Steel was taking two prescription medications for depression and was receiving treatment from Southern Arizona Behavior Health Services (SEABHS). After his arrest Steel told detectives he had been drinking alcohol that day and did not recall his activities except being at the Willcox Safeway in the morning. On December 1 the defense served asubpoena on Safeway’s corporate officefor receipts and videos.
Steel is slated for trial on May 9 at the Cochise County Superior Court in Bisbee but a recent decision by judge Wallace Hoggatt puts that date in question. On January 20 the judge approved a request from defense attorney Shapiro for a “complex case” designation due to the first degree murder charge. This allows the parties an additional 90 days to bring the case to trial. The judge has scheduled a pre-trial conference for April 7.
Contact reporter Terri Jo Neff at 520-508-3660 and firstname.lastname@example.org