January 31, 2012 in City

Reworked plea nets 60 days for shooter who missed kids

Dog dispute led to shots fired at neighbor’s house
By The Spokesman-Review
 

A man who fired several gunshots into a house, narrowly missing two toddlers, after a 2009 dispute over a dog accepted a plea bargain Monday that called for 60 days in jail, which he’s already served.

Lucas J. Merrill, 28, had faced seven counts of first-degree assault in a case that previously had been negotiated down to two misdemeanors by Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Tucker. However, a District Court judge in November refused to approve the deal after Tucker declined a request to appear in court and explain the reduction in the severity of the charges against Merrill.

Instead, Merrill pleaded guilty Monday to two counts of third-degree assault, said his defense attorney, Tom Krzyminski. Superior Court Judge Sam Cozza sentenced Merrill to 60 days in jail and gave him credit for 60 days. Third-degree assault is the lowest felony level of that offense.

“I think it’s disappointing that he was not placed in Veterans Court. But it seemed there were too many roadblocks for that,” Krzyminski said.

In November, District Court Judge Debra Hayes questioned whether the plea agreement would put a federal grant that helps pay for Veterans Court in danger if she agreed to reduce the seven felonies to two misdemeanors. “This is about as close to a murder case as I’ve seen as a felony reduction,” Hayes said during a hearing on Nov. 14.

The charges stemmed from an incident in fall 2009 when Merrill and his roommate, Brock Woodson, believed that the neighboring Gertlar family had either poisoned or injured their dog. Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor Steve Garvin said in court that Merrill got very drunk and shot at the Gertlars’ home, which had seven people inside.

According to court records, bullets just missed two toddlers who were sleeping in the front room. The Gertlars, who indicated they weren’t happy with the previous plea bargain, did not attend the Monday sentencing, Krzyminski said.

Originally from Colville, Merrill served eight years in the military including two tours in Iraq. He has since been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder and has suffered traumatic brain injury, Krzyminski said at an earlier hearing.

The case file included a letter submitted by Karen Gertlar who said the shooting “has affected our lifestyle and ability to live a safe and normal life. By someone’s careless act, we are constantly in fear and all of us have re-occurring nightmares,” Gertlar wrote.


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