The list of possible jurors in Gail Gerlach’s manslaughter trial shrank Monday as attorneys weeded out people with strong opinions in a widely publicized case that touches on self-defense and the appropriate use of force to stop property theft.
Jury selection continues today along with a series of legal arguments, including one centering on whether the jury can be told of the criminal history of Brendon Kaluza-Graham, the 25-year-old who stole Gerlach’s idling SUV from his driveway.
Gerlach then shot and killed Kaluza-Graham as the SUV sped away in north Spokane.
Monday began with about 100 potential jurors filling the courtroom presided over by Superior Court Judge Annette Plese. Several said they had heard a lot about the case.
“The person who stole the car made a bad decision that he paid for,” said one potential juror when asked if she’d developed an opinion of the case that began March 25, 2013. Several others shared similar outlooks.
If convicted of manslaughter, Gerlach faces up to a decade in prison.
“We’re not trying to find people who haven’t heard about this case,” defense attorney David Stevens said after one of the potential jurors who said they heard of the case was challenged by prosecutors. “We’re looking for people who can put those things aside.”
Plese earlier ruled that Gerlach’s wife, Sharon Gerlach, could not attend the trial. She is a possible witness to the shooting.
“I understand the defense’s indication that she would provide emotional support,” prosecuting attorney Deric Martin said. “I am sympathetic to that position. But I don’t think that concern should outweigh the proper exclusion of witnesses.”
She shared an embrace and private words with her husband after the decision was rendered.
Almost all those who filed into the courtroom after completing a preliminary eight-question survey said they’d heard something about the case from the news or social media. Most related a sketch of the details of that morning, including information relayed in police reports that Kaluza-Graham entered the car while it was running before being shot once in the back of the head by Gerlach, who left the car idling to warm up before driving his wife to work.
One potential juror, who was not challenged by either side, said he reads the newspaper in its entirety every morning but that shouldn’t keep him from sitting on the jury.
“When you read the newspaper cover to cover every day, there’s a lot of things you ignore,” he said, to some laughter in the courtroom.
Attorneys will question potential jurors in greater detail today in an attempt to whittle the list further to 12 people and at least two alternates. Plese will also decide on the admissibility of certain evidence, including Kaluza-Graham’s alleged drug use the morning of the shooting and other criminal history. Defense attorneys also want to introduce testimony about the protocol of investigators handling officer-involved shootings.
The trial is expected to last at least a week. Arguments in the case may not begin until Wednesday.