May 17, 1997 in City
Comeslast Found Guilty Of First-Degree Murder Jurors Reject Defense Claim That Shooting Of Small Time Drug Dealer Was In Self-Defense
The killing of a small-time drug dealer last summer was murder, not self-defense, a Spokane County jury decided Friday.
After five hours of deliberation, jurors ruled that Travis Comeslast, 21, murdered Chris Gongyin last June 27 with a bullet in the head from a .38-caliber handgun.
The seven-man, five-woman jury also found Comeslast guilty of first-degree robbery for stealing cash, drugs and a set of tires from the home of Gongyin, who was 20.
Comeslast is the older brother of 17-year-old Kenneth “Junior” Comeslast, now serving a life sentence without parole for killing two teenage girls in 1995.
Travis Comeslast will be sentenced next month. He already has several juvenile convictions plus one adult conviction for reckless endangerment. His sentence range will be from 38 to 49 years in prison, Deputy Prosecutor Ed Hay said.
Comeslast didn’t testify during the five-day Spokane County Superior Court trial.
Defense attorney Doug Boe said the shooting was a “split-second” act of self-defense after Gongyin rushed to get his own handgun from a nearby bedroom.
The shooting happened during an early morning visit by Comeslast and a friend, Irvin Fentroy, to Gongyin’s home on North Regal.
Fentroy tried to sell Gongyin a 9 mm pistol for $600. Fentroy and Gongyin quarreled over the price, leading to Gongyin supposedly saying he would get his own gun, Boe said.
Comeslast told police he tried but failed to stop Gongyin from reaching his bedroom. Following him into the room, where Gongyin’s wife and 13-month-old daughter slept, Comeslast fired once from his pistol, hitting Gongyin in the back of the head.
Testimony showed Comeslast then waved a pistol toward Gongyin’s wife and demanded methamphetamine and money hidden in the house. He and Fentroy were arrested by Spokane police three days after the shooting.
In closing arguments Thursday, Deputy Prosecutor Hay told the jury that a bullet fired into the back of another person’s head “hardly seems like an act of self-defense. It was an intentional murder.”
Gongyin’s wife, Barbara, said the verdict was the one piece of good news she found during a painful and difficult week.
She said police reports and defense attorney comments wrongly portrayed her husband as a violent gang member and high-volume drug dealer.
“He was a good guy who had made mistakes but had changed and left that behind,” she said.
At the time of the murder, Chris Gongyin had enrolled in a community college’s paralegal course, she said.
“In court, the defense attorney kept calling him ‘Kilo,’ but Chris had stopped hanging out with people who called him that name years ago,” she said.