Black man arrested for killing White woman in deadly ‘ambush’

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Princeton, West Virginia –  A White woman was shot multiple times in a deadly ambush while exiting her car, according to a criminal complaint filed by a senior trooper. Police now say that the suspect, 33-year-old Cory Lee Callen, from Bluefield, was already out on bond for a different arrest involving the same woman months prior.

While the investigation is still ongoing, reports indicate that the victim, later identified as 38-year-old Leona Edwards, had recently filed a domestic violence petition against Callen—who is Black.

33-year-old Cory Lee Callen (Left) and 38-year-old Leona Edwards (Right). Photo: Mugshot, Facebook

Callen was arraigned on a first-degree murder charge in the Mercer County Magistrate Court where he was given a $1 million cash surety bond with the option of home confinement by a judge.

The Assistant Prosecutor Attorney in this case, David Pfeifer, had originally requested no bond as Callen was already out on bond for a prior charge of unlawful possession of a firearm. In that separate incident, the victim was also Edwards, with the case scheduled to go on trial on January 30. Callen is currently being held at Southern Regional Jail.

“I think this is extreme and this is an extreme case,” Pfeifer told the court when requesting no bond, adding that Edwards was shot a total of seven times.

Further research into Callen’s background revealed that the Bluefield native had a history of criminality before the alleged murder of Leona Edwards. Callen was arrested in May 2023 and indicted a month later on domestic battery involving the same woman in addition to a slew of charges.

According to a criminal complaint, Edwards once told police that Callen “began hitting her and choking her,” following a verbal altercation and held Edwards against her will when she attempted to leave a vehicle he was driving. Edwards further stated that Callen told her, “He was going to go home and kill the children.”

According to criminal complaints, Leona Edwards (pictured) had been the victim of domestic abuse at the hands of her alleged boyfriend, Cory Lee Cullen in the past, and Police say she was once threatened with the killing of her children. Collage: Facebook

It was during this call that police discovered Callen’s criminal history and learned that he had “violent felony convictions of Wanton Endangerment with a Firearm and Robbery 1st Degree."

In the past, Callen was previously sentenced to federal prison for possessing a firearm as a felon. After Edwards permitted troopers to search the home the couple shared, law enforcement uncovered and seized three fully loaded semi-automatic handguns.

“Troopers also located in plain view on a shelf approximately 65-70 grams of a leafy substance consistent with marijuana,” Senior Trooper J.B. Fox reported in the complaint.

An opinion piece published in the Register-Herald disclosed a noteworthy development in the untimely and preventable death of Edwards. The author, Samantha Perry, alleges to have received tips about West Virginia State Police troopers being pulled from detachment duties “to guard a relative of Gov. Jim Justice.” If the claims are substantiated, it means officers were no longer patrolling Mercer County but instead, “sitting in a driveway, standing watch, two counties away,” on the night of the Edwards shooting death.

When Perry questioned the Governor during a media briefing shortly after the murder, Gov. Justice responded, “I can’t get into that right now,” before describing it as a “spooky situation.”

“No one wants anyone in the governor’s family to be in danger or harmed in any way. But not everyone has the luxury of assigning taxpayer-funded State Police troopers to a personal protection detail,” Perry noted in her article.

Republican Governor of West Virginia Jim Justice. Photo: WV Gov. Jim Justice’s Office

Meanwhile, a local West Virginia community is shaken by the tragic loss. Per Edwards’ obituary, she was a mother to three children, “left to cherish her memory,” as well as having “a host of cousins and special friends that will forever cherish her memory.”

Edwards’ untimely death is yet another example of the severely under-discussed trend of interracial domestic violence as the rates of interracial relationships continue to increase. A study cited by the National Library of Medicine revealed that interracial couples represented as many as 17.9% of reported domestic abuse cases in addition to being 1.5 times more likely to mutually assault each other than “ethnic minority” couples. Interracial couples were also twice as likely as White couples to experience a mutual assault.

Furthermore, interracial couples were far more likely than monoracial couples to report an arrest, prior abuse, and injuries sustained as a result of domestic violence. Despite the already astounding numbers, researchers believe this could be an underestimation as the current data was based on official police reports of interracial domestic abuse in more severe cases.

Though the Mountain State has been recognized as the Whitest state in the U.S., a sizeable share of the state’s Black population is concentrated in southern West Virginia, including Mercer County where Callen’s hometown of Bluefield is located. The percentage of Black residents in Bluefield stands at 22% while the White population is measured at approximately 68%, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Alongside other Southern states such as Texas and Kentucky, West Virginia is also experiencing a growing Black population.

Racial and ethnic demographics of the predominantly White state of West Virginia. Infographic: WV Center on Budget and Policy

Additionally, West Virginia has been disreputably plagued by high rates of poverty, drug addiction, and suicide mostly stemming from the economic despair brought on by the decline of the state’s coal industry and an influx of opioid prescriptions by unethical pharmaceutical tycoons. These unabated conditions have expectantly resulted in the decline of the state’s population. From 2010 to 2020, West Virginia was ranked 50th for population growth, standing at a dismal -3.33%.

The new year could bring about change and opportunity to a state whose long-standing issues have been shamefully absent from mainstream discussion. Governor Justice announced during his weekly virtual administration briefing the many projects his team has implemented and their impact on attracting more residents to the state.

Recent studies give credence to this claim as West Virginia also saw the largest increase in moving interest in the country, particularly among adults who are part of “Generation Z” with a net gain of 138%—more members than that of any other generation. Housing concerns were cited as the main driver behind this influx among Gen Z, or “Zoomers,” and political, economic, and even cultural consequences could be underway if trends continue.

The tragic murder of Leona Edwards comes amid a spate of deaths allegedly stemming from interracial relationships in the United States. In December, police arrested a Black man after his White girlfriend’s toddler was found dead inside a canvas bag. In May, a 15-year-old White girl was found dead inside a communal dumpster, with police arresting a 29-year-old Black sex offender for the crime. According to local activists, the girl had fallen into a life of hardship due to allegations of crack cocaine abuse in the home.

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