Jury finds Gail Gerlach not guilty of manslaughter

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by KREM.com

KREM.com

Posted on April 10, 2014 at 4:05 PM

Updated Saturday, Apr 12 at 12:59 PM

Poll:
Do you agree with the Gail Gerlach verdict?

DAY 8:

SPOKANE, Wash-- The jury handed down a ‘not guilty’ verdict Thursday to the Spokane man who shot and killed another man he believed was breaking into his car. 

“This was a tragedy, as Christians we believe in redemption," said Gail Gerlach outside of court following the verdict. "The greatest tragedy is that Mr. Brendon Kaluza-Graham will never have a chance to turn his life around. I’m going to now take time to spend with my family and friends.”

The defendant, Gail Gerlach, was charged with manslaughter for the shooting death of 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham in March of 2013.   


Jury deliberations began Thursday morning.  Jurors reached a consensus at about 1:00 p.m. The verdict was read at about 2:00 p.m.
It took the jury less than four hours to give a verdict on the case.

Gerlach appeared calm as his wife wiped away tears in the courtroom.  Kaluza-Graham’s family, who was also in the courtroom, looked stunned.

The prosecutor said Gerlach killed Kaluza-Graham under, “very suspicious circumstances”. 

The trial against Gail Gerlach lasted eight days. 

Although Gerlach was found not guilty for manslaughter, jurors met again to decide whether his use of force was justified.  If the jury were to find Gerlach acted in self-defense, the state would be obligated to pay the defendant’s defense expenses.

Later in the afternoon, the jury returned to court with a second verdict. They decided Gerlach's use of force was justified which means he can ask for legal costs to be reimbursed by state of Washington.

Gerlach said he is experiencing overwhelming relief and gratitude for the supporters who have stuck by him.
 

DAY 7:

SPOKANE, Wash.--Gail Gerlach defended his actions Wednesday in court.

Gerlach, 57, was charged with manslaughter in the March 2013 shooting of 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham. Gerlach claimed the victim was trying to steal his SUV.  

In court on Wednesday, Gerlach said he thought Kaluza-Graham had a gun pointed at him and he thought he could die.

Gerlach said the shooting was a tragedy and he wished he could have avoided it. He stood by his decision to shoot at Kaluza-Graham and said he did not make a mistake.

Gerlach told the jury about starting his car the morning of the shooting and then going back inside to check on his wife before noticing something unusual.

"Then I saw that there was someone sitting in the truck,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach said he went after the driver as he realized what was happening.

"I kind of just stepped forward and went, ‘Hey, Stop!’” said Gerlach.

Much of the trial was focused on the hand motions made by Kaluza-Graham while in the Gerlach’s SUV.

Gerlach explained his initial reaction as he saw the driver move his arm.

"I think I went, 'Gun!’” said Gerlach.

Officials later determined Kaluza-Graham did not have a weapon with him. Gerlach defended what he saw and how he reacted in the moment.

"There absolutely was something in his hand,” said Gerlach.

Gerlach said his decision to draw his weapon and then fire a shot all happened in less than two seconds. The prosecution challenged him on if he knew the risks of shooting that morning. They added one of the risks was school children walking in the neighborhood.

"If you would have missed, Mr. Kaluza-Graham or your vehicle and hit one of them, that's just a risk you were willing to take?” the prosecution asked Gerlach. “I didn't miss,” replied Gerlach.

The State also asked why Gerlach did not make sure Kaluza-Graham was looking at him when he fired his gun.

"It was either take that shot or be shot,” replied Gerlach.

Gerlach was the last witness to take the stand.


The State argued Gerlach was not actually worried for his life but was angry about watching someone steal his car. The defense challenged that case and said the evidence did not match that claim. They said the evidence showed Gerlach was justified to shoot Kaluza-Graham in self defense.


The prosecution focused on whether Gerlach had the right to react by shooting Kaluza-Graham. The defense focused on the threat Gerlach and his wife felt in the moment of watching their car get stolen.

"If Mr. Gerlach hadn't had his gun at the time, you could almost imagine stepping down in anger and throwing up a rock at his car,” said the prosecution.

The prosecution suggested there were inconsistent statements from the Gerlach’s between the day of the shooting and their time in court. The defense tried to emphasize the key words used by Gerlach from the start.

"He told Detective Estes that ‘my truck was stolen, I felt threatened.’ Undisputed that that had come out in testimony,” said the defense.

There are eleven women and one man who will decide if Gerlach is guilty of manslaughter in either the first or second degree. The Jury was expected to start their deliberations on Thursday.

DAY 6:

SPOKANE, Wash.--The defense started its case for the Spokane man accused of shooting and killing another man trying to steal his SUV.

Gail Gerlach faces manslaughter charges for the death of Brendon Kaluza-Graham. Gerlach’s wife made an emotional appearance in court on Tuesday.

Sharon Gerlach said she thought the man driving away with her car had a gun and was going to kill her husband. She said she could not see everything inside her car that morning but she could make out a man and believed he was threatening her husband.

Sharon Gerlach was the first witness called by the defense on Tuesday. She explained how her husband almost always had a gun on him.

"It's senseless to have protection with you if you never have the protection with you,” said Sharon Gerlach.

Sharon Gerlach walked the jury through her regular routine and then explained what happened the day of the shooting. She said her and her husband were getting ready to leave for work together like they always do.

"I'm about two or three steps behind him and he's holding the door for me and he suddenly just let the door go and he took off jogging down the driveway,” said Sharon Gerlach.

She said her husband went down the driveway yelling, “Stop.”

“I look up and our car is backing out of the driveway without us in it,” said Sharon Gerlach.

Sharon Gerlach added that as she tried to keep up with what was happening, she thought her husband was going to die. She admitted she could only see a silhouette from the car.

"I thought he was holding a gun pointing at my husband,” said Sharon Gerlach.

The prosecution challenged her on what she could actually make out that morning.

 "His arm came up, between the seats and pointed back and it looked like he held something in his hand and to me it looked like a gun,” said Sharon Gerlach.

The State asked Sharon Gerlach how she could be sure if she was not able to see completely inside the SUV.

"But you just said it was impossible to tell? It was impossible to tell if he grabbed something or grabbed something from somewhere,” said the prosecution.

The defense wanted to make its case in one day but needed Tuesday morning and afternoon to just get through its first two witnesses.

The first expert witness called by the defense was Gaylan Warren. Warren said Gerlach had to be at an angle closer to the side of the SUV based on how the bullet traveled.

Gail Gerlach was set to testify Wednesday.

DAY 5:

SPOKANE, Wash.— The prosecution rested its case on Monday afternoon in the Gail Gerlach trial.

Gerlach is charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing Brendon Kaluza-Graham in 2013. Authorities said Gerlach shot the man when Kaluza-Graham was stealing his car. Jury members heard testimony from an officer and detectives investigating the case on Monday.

On Monday, both sides tried to get witnesses to explain if it was easy or not to see inside the SUV.

They also talked about how Gerlach acted just hours before the shooting.

Testimony Monday focused on the child car seat and driver’s headrest inside Gerlach’s SUV. Many of the witnesses talked about examining the car during the investigation.

Several photos of the scene were reviewed Monday. Witnesses spent time showing the position of the car seat and the direction of the bullet into the driver’s headrest. Pictures were shown Monday with blood stains on the headrest from Kaluza-Graham.

Detectives made it clear that they could not see the driver if they were standing directly behind the SUV.

"I could see masses but I couldn't see detail, I couldn't tell you what I was looking at as I was looking through the tint,” said a detective.

Witnesses also spoke of Gerlach’s demeanor immediately after the shooting and when interviewed by Spokane Police.

Detectives said Gerlach cooperated with them and seemed calm.

Gerlach told police he did not feel safe as he watched his SUV drive away.

"His verbatim words was 'The guy stole my car and I felt threatened’,” said an official with the case.

The defense was set to call witnesses Tuesday morning. Lawyers said they expect to make their case in one day. Gerlach and his wife are set to take the stand.

DAY 4  AFTERNOON:

SPOKANE, Wash. -- A jury that will determine the fate of a Spokane homeowner who shot and killed a man stealing his car was shown graphic video from the scene Thursday.

Gerlach, 57, was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing Brendon Kaluza-Graham, 25.

Jurors received a video walk through of the aftermath of the shooting. Jodie Dewey works as a forensic specialist for Spokane County. She recorded the aftermath of the shooting last year.

Authorities said one shot was fired from Gerlach’s pistol and it hit Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head as he drove off in Gerlach’s car.

Gerlach’s attorneys said their client was not protecting his property but defending his life after Kaluza-Graham made a frightening gesture toward him.

Witnesses of the shooting said the SUV’s Engine revved up after they heard the gunshot and it sped down the street.

 Video shows it crashed into a neighbor’s garage several blocks away. Prosecuting attorneys questioned a second forensic specialist to see if she recalled seeing any weapons Kaluza-Graham could have thrown from the car. She said she did not see any such weapon.

Prosecutors still have more witnesses to call to the stand before the defense presents theirs.

DAY 4 MORNING:

SPOKANE, Wash. -- The jury in the trial of a Spokane homeowner who shot and killed a man who was stealing his SUV saw graphic photos of the victim’s autopsy.

Gerlach, 57, was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing Brendon Kaluza-Graham, 25.

Prosecutors wanted the jurors to see exactly where the bullet hit Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head. They maintain Gerlach was wreckless when he shot the fleeing suspect.

The prosecution used a Styrofoam head to show the jury how exactly the bullet hit him.

Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken performed the autopsy on Kaluza-Graham.  She explained graphic photos of his bullet wound. Dr. Aiken said the bullet appeared to travel in a straight line through the back of his head.

“There seemed to be no indication of ricochet. It was a straight back to front path with a few degrees of deviation towards the right,” said Dr. Aiken.

Prosecutors claim Gerlach ran into the middle of the street and fired his pistol. Gerlach’s defense attorneys said he did not and the bullet did not go directly through the back window of his stolen SUV.

The defense said Gerlach would testify he fired his gun from the edge of his driveway. Gerlach’s attorneys asked the medical examiner if it is possible Kaluza-Graham made a motion towards him that scared him before he shot the fleeing car thief.

A witness said he saw Kaluza-Graham in the vehicle with his hands in the air the moment after he heard the gun shot and saw the SUV race by him.

DAY 3:

SPOKANE, Wash.--The trial of a homeowner who shot and killed a man stealing his SUV got underway Wednesday morning in Spokane.

Gail Gerlach was charged with manslaughter for shooting and killing Brendon Kaluza-Graham in March of 2013.    

Prosecutors said Gerlach’s actions were reckless. The defense said Gerlach acted in self defense.

“What we are really talking about in this case is not just one bad decision on the morning of March 25th, 2013 but two,” said prosecuting attorney Deric Martin.

Martin claimed Gerlach made a reckless decision when he fired his pistol at a fleeting car thief.

Gerlach’s attorney said that sight of fear is summarized in one statement made by Gerlach after the shooting: “He scared the **** out of me!”

Gerlach will take the stand in his own defense during the trial. His attorney, Richard Lee, said jurors will hear him describe that he saw Kaluza-Graham backing up and stealing his SUV out of his driveway.

Lee said Gerlach saw Kaluza-Graham make a movement that terrified him.

Attorneys said Gerlach will testify that he pulled his gun out of his side holster and fired one shot in self-defense. Authorities said that one shot hit Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head.

“His actions that morning, you are going to learn were reasonable, they were not reckless and they were not negligent,” said Lee.
 

Prosecutors claimed the opposite.

“What the evidence in this case is going to show, not only was Mr. Kaluza-Graham reckless that morning, but Mr. Gerlach was as too,” said Martin. “He made a reckless decision in the way he fired that gun down the street.”

The defense said evidence will show Gerlach is the victim, not a criminal.

Prosecutors stated evidence will prove Gerlach acted negligently.  

DAY 2:

SPOKANE, Wash.-- It took almost two days to seat a jury for the Gail Gerlach trial in Spokane. The final jurors were chosen Tuesday.

Gerlach, 57, was charged with First Degree Manslaughter in the March 2013 shooting of 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham. He claimed Kaluza-Graham was trying to steal his SUV.

Typically, jury selection takes three hours to an entire business day.  Yet the Gerlach trial took two full business days.

Gerlach’s fate will be in the hands of 13 women and one man.

Prosecutors grilled jurors to ensure personal feelings wouldn't get in the way of their verdict.

“Just like you wouldn't vote one way in your verdict because of your feelings about the state,” said Prosecutor Deric Martin. “I'm assuming you wouldn't vote one way based on your feelings about the defendant?”

Both sides were also nervous about how the potential jurors would handle any misconduct on the very controversial case.

Open statements start Wednesday.

Gerlach’s defense said their expert witness will testify to the extreme emotional distress he was under when talking to police. They told the judge Tuesday that some statements made by Gerlach were inaccurate because Gerlach was so traumatized in the moments following the shooting.

Defense attornies added that they want to bring up the meth found on Kaluza-Graham and the time Kaluza-Graham attacked a deputy. However, prosecutors said the drugs would only be relevant if Kaluza-Graham was alive to testify.

DAY 1: Potential juror in Gerlach trial: “I might have done the same thing”

SPOKANE, Wash.-- Jury selection began Monday for the trial of a Spokane man accused of killing another man who was taking his SUV.

Gail Gerlach, 57, was charged with manslaughter in the March 2013 shooting of 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham.

Representatives from both sides of the case screened 100 jurors for possible bias. Each was asked a series of questions, including whether they had seen news coverage of the case.

One of the jurors said he saw coverage of the shooting and related to the defendant. 

“He’s a homeowner just like me,” said the potential juror. “I might have done the same thing.”

That juror, whose identity was kept confidential, was later dismissed.

Jurors were also asked if they or their family members belonged to the National Rifle Association and if anyone in their family had a criminal record.

MORE:Website collecting donations for Gail Gerlach's legal fees

Gerlach said he fired after seeing what he thought was a gun. Police found no gun in the vehicle. Prosecutors said the shooting was not justified because there was no imminent threat.

The Gerlach family said they were anxious to get Gail’s trial underway and to have some closure. The Kaluza-Graham family said losing Brendon was excruciating.

WATCH: Manslaughter suspect's wife nervous about Spokane trial

If convicted, Gerlach faces between eight and ten years in prison.

Jury selection was expected to be complete by Tuesday afternoon. Opening arguments were expected to begin Wednesday.

Gerlach planned to take the stand in his own defense. 

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