April 3, 2014

Medical examiner: Kaluza-Graham died within “moments” of being shot by Gerlach

Testimony heard Thursday from experts, civilian witnesses
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The bullet fired by Gail Gerlach would have robbed Brendon Kaluza-Graham of his motor skills within “moments” and killed him almost as quickly, Spokane County Medical Examiner Sally Aiken said Thursday.

“He would be completely unable to move physically after this injury,” Aiken told jurors in the second day of testimony in Gerlach’s manslaughter trial.

Witnesses called by the prosecution Thursday detailed the injuries to Kaluza-Graham and the devastation caused by his lack of ability to control the SUV he’d taken from Gerlach’s driveway the morning of March 25, 2013. Prosecutors hope to prove Gerlach acted with criminal recklessness when he fired a single round that struck Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head, killing him and sending the vehicle like a battering ram down a residential street where some students were walking to a bus stop.

But defense attorney David Stevens attempted to poke holes in the police investigation of the incident and convince jurors that Kaluza-Graham had the time and ability to point at Gerlach in a threatening manner prior to the shooting.

Stevens asked Aiken if it were possible Kaluza-Graham may have moved in the seconds between when he sped past Gerlach’s driveway and when the self-employed plumber opened fire. Investigators estimate the bullet pierced the rear windshield of the car from a distance of up to 63 feet.

“I don’t know if his head was in motion when the bullet entered his head, I would have no way to know that,” Aiken said. She also said she could not determine if, in the moments prior to the shooting, Kaluza-Graham had been turned toward Gerlach.

Joseph Bercier, a neighbor, testified he heard a gunshot behind him and an engine revving. He then turned and saw the SUV speed past him. At the time, he saw the driver’s hands in the air and something green, perhaps a bucket, being thrown from the car, he said.

“I saw just a flash, I couldn’t really see,” Bercier said. “I thought it was someone I knew.”

Several scene investigators also spoke Thursday. They said they saw no green bucket or any type of weapon at the scene. A closed pocketknife was found in Kaluza-Graham’s pocket during an autopsy, as well as a black flashlight and key fob about four inches long, Aiken said.

Robert McKinley, the owner of the property where the SUV crashed, is deaf in one ear and didn’t hear the collision. His first indication were investigators and members of the media in his backyard, he said. In total, property damage caused by the crash totaled about $19,000, McKinley said.

A 15-year-old boy said he was walking to his bus stop near the property when the crash occurred. He ran “about a half a block,” he guessed, to avoid the careening SUV and was “terrified,” he said.

The quietest moments in the courtroom Thursday occurred as Jodie Dewey, a forensic specialist with the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office, showed video taken from the shooting scene that morning. The camera panned along Lee Street, then came to rest on the body of Kaluza-Graham, with a tarp pulled back to document the gunshot wound. Many in the audience averted their eyes.

Prosecutor Deric Martin and Stevens clashed Thursday afternoon as witnesses Glenn Davis, a firearms investigator with the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, and crime scene investigator Brad Hallock with the Spokane Police Department detailed their findings.

Gerlach’s weapon was loaded with hollow-point rounds designed to mushroom inside their target and avoid collateral damage, Davis testified. Stevens pressed whether this meant the cartridges were safer than other types of ammunition, but Davis would not say that was the case in all situations.

A crime scene diagram prepared by Hallock indicated a distance of a little more than 60 feet between a spent shell casing and where busted glass from the rear window of the SUV was found on Lee Street. Stevens asked whether this meant for certain that Gerlach was that far from the vehicle when he fired.

Hallock was noncommittal, but did say under questioning from Martin the first time a moving vehicle hits a divot in the road glass “tends to break and fall out.”

Jurors were excused by Judge Annette Plese until Monday morning, when the prosecution will resume questioning its witnesses. The trial is expected to last most of next week. Gerlach faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

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