The Spokane plumber facing manslaughter charges for shooting a car thief wants the court to help pay for the forensics experts needed to help prepare his self-defense case.
Gail Gerlach, 57, made the request to Spokane Superior Court Judge Annette Plese this week, saying in court documents that he can’t afford the expenses himself. Documents indicate the judge has appointed experts to assist in Gerlach’s defense, but details of the appointments have been sealed.
Gerlach is charged with first-degree manslaughter in connection with the March shooting death of 25-year-old Brendon T. Kaluza-Graham, who was stealing a 1997 Chevrolet Suburban that Gerlach had left idling outside his Spokane home. Although the SUV was speeding away from him, Gerlach argues he fired in self-defense because he feared the thief was armed and preparing to shoot. No weapons were found in the vehicle, though.
Last month, Gerlach declared to Judge Plese that he was having difficulty raising the money needed to mount his legal defense. As of Aug. 22, Gerlach reported private fundraising efforts totaling about $6,600. Gerlach’s legal fees at that time were at $19,000 and rising, he said.
“My wife and I are unable to afford the expert witness I need for my defense,” Gerlach wrote in a legal filing. “We are supporting seven people in my household and have little disposable income, which is being used to pay my legal fees.”
Gerlach’s defense team employed the services of Gaylan Warren, a veteran of the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory who went into private investigative work in 1988. Warren has testified for the defense of Ralph Benson, the long-haul trucker convicted by a Lincoln County jury in 2003 of murdering state employee Roger Erdman, and was one of more than 100 witnesses in the case of Tom DiBartolo, a former Spokane County sheriff’s detective convicted of murdering his wife in 1997. In both cases, Warren examined forensic evidence and concluded additional suspects may have been involved in the killings.
Defense attorneys Richard Lee and David Stevens have additionally declared to the court that they intend to argue Gerlach acted in self-defense. If acquitted at trial, taxpayers would have to reimburse Gerlach the full cost of his legal defense.
A first-degree manslaughter conviction carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Gerlach’s trial is scheduled to begin in December.
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