April 7, 2014 in City

Nearly impossible for Gerlach to see in car, detectives testify

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Kip Hill/The Spokesman-Review photo

A scene from the Gail Gerlach manslaughter trial: Det. Brian Cestnik is in the middle, motioning to the map. Prosecutor Deric Martin is on the right. Defense Attorney David Stevens is on the left. Judge Annette Plese on the bench.
(Full-size photo)

If you haven’t had a chance to keep up with the trial, this Storify synopsis gives a quick background. And here’s a link to Spokesman-Review past coverage of this case. Lastly, follow the trial gavel-to-gavel through this Twitter feed. If you are on Twitter, follow @SRTrials.

Police detectives testified Monday that it would have been nearly impossible for Gail Gerlach to see a threatening gesture made inside his stolen vehicle, wrapping up the prosecution’s case in the manslaughter trial.

Gerlach will argue that he saw Brendon Kaluza-Graham point in a threatening manner and that he acted in self-defense when he shot and killed the car thief in March 2013.

But detectives testified Monday that tinted windows on Gerlach’s SUV and plumbing tools piled high in the back obscured Gerlach’s view of the front seat as Kaluza-Graham fled in the car.

“I could see masses, but I couldn’t see detail,” head detective Neil Gallion told jurors of his inspection of the SUV from the back the day after Gerlach the shooting.

Gallion inspected the SUV in what he described as a well-lit police evidence room. But defense attorneys questioned whether sunlight the morning of the shooting might have better illuminated the interior of the vehicle. They also pressed Gallion and detective Brian Cestnik on whether they knew exactly where Gerlach was standing when he fired the single bullet that struck Kaluza-Graham in the back of the head, killing him almost instantly.

“At this point, I don’t know exactly how far the vehicle was away when the shot was fired,” Gallion said under questioning from defense attorney David Stevens.

Prosecuting attorney Deric Martin on Monday finished presenting his case to a jury of 11 women and one man that will decide if Gerlach, 56, will spend up to a decade in prison for manslaughter. Testimony was heard from Gallion, Cestnik and fellow detective Ben Estes, as well as Kris Honaker, the Spokane police officer who was among the first to question Gerlach and collect evidence after the shooting.

Also shown was a bloodstained headrest with clear marks showing where the bullet traveled through foam and plastic and entered Kaluza-Graham’s head. The panel also saw photographs of the rear of the SUV, piled high with tools and other items that stretched from floorboard to ceiling after the vehicle was moved from the scene.

Estes interviewed Gerlach and his wife, Sharon, just a few hours after the shooting. He described the couple as calm and a bit nervous. He called Sharon Gerlach “talkative.”

“He and his wife were kind of comforting each other, a little bit,” Estes recalled of the Gerlachs’ behavior when they arrived for an interview the morning of March 25, 2013. It had been less than two hours since Gail Gerlach had shot and killed Kaluza-Graham.

Gerlach told Estes about his morning routine and drew some diagrams, Estes said. Gerlach started the car then went inside to work on the computer while his wife prepared a lunch for work, he told Estes. At some point, Gerlach told Estes he feared for his life.

“The next thing he said was, ‘The guy stole my car, and I felt threatened,’” Estes said, adding the words were quoted verbatim in his report of the interview.

Gerlach later ended the questioning and asked for a lawyer. Several statements he made at the scene to responding officers, including that he was second-guessing himself, were not heard by the jury due to an earlier ruling they were inadmissible by Judge Annette Plese.

The defense will begin presenting its testimony today. . Two expert witnesses are expected to testify, along with Sharon and Gail Gerlach. Closing arguments could come as soon as Wednesday morning.


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