Moments after Gail Gerlach fatally shot Brendon Kaluza-Graham, he called 911 to report his SUV had been stolen.
As the dispatcher took his information, a breathless Gerlach interrupted her: “Honey, will you listen to me for a second? I took a shot at the guy.”
That 911 recording was played for jurors Wednesday as Gerlach’s manslaughter trial began. Gerlach faces up to a decade in prison if convicted.
Prosecutor Deric Martin said the 911 recording is evidence Gerlach, a self-employed plumber, was concerned more about his property than human life when he fired a single round at his SUV about 60 feet away. The shot, “probably a one-in-a-million,” Martin told jurors, traveled through the rear window and headrest, severing Kaluza-Graham’s spine at the base of the skull and killing him almost instantly.
“The first thing he says is not, ‘My life was threatened,’ or ‘I shot another man,’ ” Martin told jurors. “The first words out of his mouth were that his car was stolen.”
But defense attorney Richard Lee countered that his client feared for his life when he shot. He showed jurors the motion Gerlach said he saw that morning – Kaluza-Graham pointing back in a threatening manner that indicated a handgun. Kaluza-Graham was not armed when he took the SUV that was idling in Gerlach’s drive the morning of March 25, 2013.
“This case is not about vigilante justice,” Lee said. Instead, he said, Gerlach is expected to testify he saw Kaluza-Graham’s eyes as he backed onto Lee Street and fired in self-defense to protect himself and his wife.
“He scared the (expletive) out of me,” Gerlach can be heard telling the dispatcher in the 911 recording.
The first-degree manslaughter charge requires proof that Gerlach acted recklessly when he fired at Kaluza-Graham. Martin said Gerlach’s decision to draw his weapon and fire on a residential street in the hazy morning hours put others in danger.
“Not only was Mr. Kaluza-Graham reckless that morning, but Mr. Gerlach was too,” Martin said. “He made a reckless decision in the way he fired that gun down the street.”
The first Spokane police officers who responded to the scene testified at length Wednesday about Gerlach’s initial demeanor and responses to questions, as well as where evidence was located. The defendant periodically scribbled notes.
Officer Ron Tilley, one of the first people at the scene where the SUV crashed after Kaluza-Graham was shot, said tree branches and fencing had wrapped itself around the cab and made entry difficult for medics, who detected just a faint pulse before declaring the 25-year-old dead at the scene 30 minutes later.
Tilley said he questioned Gerlach’s wife, who had run to investigate the crash scene about two blocks away. She appeared shaken. Officer Tyler Cordis, the first to interview Gail Gerlach, said he was nervous but cooperative with investigators. Officer Larry House drove the couple to and from interviews with detectives. He said they appeared shaken, “but not hysterical.”
Testimony from officers ended around 4 p.m. and the jury was excused. They will hear testimony today from the medical examiner, forensic specialists and witnesses, including juveniles.