April 2, 2014 in City

Testimony in Gerlach trial will start today

One man, 11 women selected for jury in manslaughter trial
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Eleven women and one man will decide if Gail Gerlach is guilty of manslaughter.

After a day-and-a-half of questioning, attorneys for the prosecution and defense settled on 12 jurors and two alternates, who will begin hearing testimony today. Gerlach, 56, is accused of shooting to death 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham, who had stolen the self-employed plumber’s idling SUV from his driveway on the morning of March 25, 2013.

The lone man on the jury told attorneys he was a member of the National Rifle Association and is a federal law enforcement agent with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

He carries a firearm as part of his border patrol job and contributes to the national pro-gun lobbying group, which declined to provide money for Gerlach’s defense.

Testimony and arguments in the high-profile case will likely touch upon property rights and whether the perceived threat by Gerlach, who said he thought he saw Kaluza-Graham point a gun at him and his wife, Sharon, as he sped away in the vehicle, justified his actions.

Attorneys for both sides questioned assembled jurors Tuesday morning and early afternoon about their thoughts on the justice system and whether killing another person is ever justified.

Prosecutor Deric Martin asked potential jurors if they watched Western movies. His follow-up questions touched on beliefs about “vigilante justice” and whether an “old style” of legality was preferable to the modern court system, to mostly universal refusal.

“Anger and vengeance is no basis for a civil society,” said one potential juror. He was not picked for the final panel.

David Stevens, speaking for fellow defense attorneys Richard Lee and Teresa Border, asked jurors about their opinions of the George Zimmerman “stand your ground” case in Florida. Zimmerman was acquitted of criminal charges in the death of Trayvon Martin, a teenager whom Zimmerman shot in a confrontation in December 2012.

Stevens also asked assembled jurors if they objected to killing in order to protect a loved one.

After a jury was picked, Judge Annette Plese ruled on the admissibility of certain evidence in the case. While Plese said Stevens and the defense could question an expert witness about the trauma following a deadly shooting and how investigators handle officer-involved incidents, she denied their motion to allow evidence about Kaluza-Graham’s purported drug use and criminal history.

“I don’t think it’s relevant,” Plese said, saying there was no indication Gerlach was aware of these facts when he fired on Kaluza-Graham.

Stevens said Gerlach would be testifying that he could recognize Kaluza-Graham as the man he shot at that morning, despite police reports in which he said he wasn’t sure of the sex of the driver speeding away in his SUV.

If convicted, Gerlach could spend up to a decade in prison.

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