A Killing in Cordova

 A note from Kenneth Neill, Publisher/Editor:

I’m telling everyone I know to take a close look at this month’s Memphis cover story, “A Killing in Cordova.” Authored by native Memphian Graham Hillard, who now teaches in the English department at Treveca Nazerene University in Nashville, this powerful saga of the 2009 Trinity Commons parking lot murder is one of the most significant stories we’ve published in years. I hope you'll pick up a copy, and enjoy this along with the rest of the editorial package we’ve put together for this September issue. You won’t be disappointed!

I chatted with Graham about what inspired him to write this feature a few weeks ago here in our office.  You can watch our discussion here:

And here's an excerpt from the beginning of Hillard's exceptionally well-written article:

"On the evening of February 6, 2009, Harry R. Coleman Jr., a 59-year-old real estate investor, was drinking a glass of wine in the dining room of Villa Castrioti, an Italian restaurant in Cordova’s Trinity Commons shopping center, when his mother-in-law entered from the parking lot, obviously distraught. Coleman, who prefers to be called Ray, had spent the afternoon visiting a hospitalized friend in West Memphis, Arkansas, and had arranged to meet his wife, Katheryn, and her mother for dessert. As Coleman recalls, he had taken only a few sips of the wine when he was interrupted. Katheryn, who that evening was celebrating her fifty-second birthday, had become involved in an altercation outside the restaurant, according to her mother, and Coleman’s presence was required immediately.

Expecting nothing more serious than a fender-bender, Coleman left his table and made his way to the sidewalk separating the restaurant from the parking lot, leaving behind his day planner. What he saw there surprised him. To his right, at a distance perhaps the width of six parking spaces, a crowd had gathered in the vicinity of Coleman’s vehicle, a silver Hummer, and a second automobile, a similarly colored Yukon Denali parked directly beside it. Standing between the two vehicles was Katheryn, and in front of her on the sidewalk was a man who would later be identified as Robert Schwerin Jr., a 52-year-old mechanic employed by FedEx.

Katheryn would later testify in court that upon pulling into the parking lot she noticed Schwerin, who went by the nickname “Dutch,” kneeling in front of her husband’s Hummer, “pulling parts off the car and chunking them to the side.” According to statements offered by several witnesses, Katheryn confronted Schwerin, at one point going so far as to place her body behind the Denali — Schwerin’s vehicle — to prevent his leaving. Though the exact nature of the words exchanged by Katheryn and Schwerin remains a subject of debate, witnesses and participants alike agree that the key source of the controversy was the proximity of the automobiles to one another — though both were parked legally, the gap between them was too narrow to allow Schwerin access to his vehicle through the driver’s side door.

Making his way onto the scene, Coleman tried to ascertain what had happened. After conferring briefly with Katheryn, he approached Schwerin, and the two began a heated conversation. (One witness has since characterized the exchange as a barrage of “cussing and yelling back and forth.”) Katheryn soon joined the men on the sidewalk, and the atmosphere grew tenser yet. According to testimony offered later, Katheryn began to jab Schwerin’s chest with her fingers, and Schwerin responded by “trying to create space between the two of them,” pushing Katheryn aside, though not roughly enough to disrupt her balance.

It was at this moment, witnesses suggest, that the first explicit threat of violence was delivered. Seeing the interaction between Katheryn and Schwerin, Coleman reportedly told the latter, “If you touch my wife again, I’ll blow your fucking brains out.” Coleman, who denies both this remark and the characterization of his wife’s behavior, instead blames Schwerin for the introduction of violence, later testifying, “He told me he was going to kill me, my wife, and my dog.”

Whichever of these narratives is accurate, what happened next is beyond dispute. Moving into the parking lot and opening the rear passenger door of the Hummer in an attempt to shield himself, Coleman took his cell phone from its hip holster and dialed 911. Receiving no answer, he retrieved a Wilson Compact .45 caliber handgun from the Hummer’s center console and walked back to where Schwerin was waiting.

Prosecutors at Coleman’s trial would make much of the gesture that followed. Standing only inches from Schwerin, Coleman placed the tip of his gun on Schwerin’s lips and forced the muzzle into his mouth, according to multiple testimonies. (Coleman disputes this characterization and says instead that he placed the gun “between [Schwerin’s] nose and his mouth,” though one imagines a jury drawing little distinction between the two acts.) The men paused in this tableau for a moment. Then, fewer than 15 minutes after the encounter had begun, Coleman took several steps backward, raised his gun, and shot Schwerin in the chest."

Read the rest of this story in the September 2012 issue of Memphis magazine: available now at Booksellers at Laurelwood, Barnes & Noble Germantown and Collierville, area Kroger stores, area Walgreens stores, area Sam's Club stores, area Costco stores, and area Wal-Mart stores. Or call (901)521-9000 to order your copy or to start your one-year/12-issue subscription to Memphis magazine today for just $15.



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