Monday, March 31, 2014
Jury selection began today in the controversial manslaughter trial of Spokane plumber Gail Gerlach, who shot and killed a 25-year-old man in March of 2013 as the man drove away in Gerlach's stolen SUV. Prosecutors considered the shooting a case of excessive vigilantism while Gerlach's supporters argue a right to defend his life and property.
We wrote last year about the legal gray areas in Washington state's self-defense law. Subjects must demonstrate they felt themselves or others were in immediate danger of significant physical harm, a perception somewhat in the eye of the beholder.
Investigators say Gerlach left his SUV idling in his driveway along Lee Street shortly before 8 am on March 25, 2013. When he emerged from his home, he saw the vehicle backing out and then speeding away down the street. Gerlach acknowledges he drew his pistol from his holster and fired a single shot through the back window.
Court records state the bullet went through the window, through the driver's seat and struck Brendon Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head, killing him instantly.
Gerlach tells investigators he saw the driver turn in his seat and raise his hand with what he thought was a gun. Fearing for his life, Gerlach says he fired on the driver.
Investigators found no gun or other weapon on Kaluza-Graham. They also noted the dark-tinted windows and driver's seat head rest would have likely obscured Gerlach's view. When officers arrived on scene, Gerlach reportedly fretted over his decision to fire on the vehicle.
"Gerlach told [an officer] that he had been scared and that he did not know whether he had done the right thing," court records state. "He wondered aloud whether he should have simply gone back inside the house rather than shoot after the car. Gerlach repeated several times that he hoped the driver was not hurt."
Defense attorneys say Kaluza-Graham had vehicle theft tools and drugs on him. He also tested positive for methamphetamine. They argue Gerlach felt a legitimate threat to his and his family's safety.
Court records indicate the trial will likely stretch into late next week. Gerlach could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted of first-degree manslaughter.