Tears flowed on both sides of a Spokane courtroom Thursday as a jury acquitted Gail Gerlach of manslaughter in the March 2013 death of Brendon Kaluza-Graham.
Gerlach’s wife, Sharon, wept and embraced her family as the verdict, not guilty on both a first-degree and second-degree manslaughter charge, was read in open court. Ann Kaluza-Graham, grandmother of the man shot dead trying to steal Gerlach’s SUV, burst into tears as she said her grandson never got a chance to answer theft charges or prove himself a changed person.
“This was a tragedy,” Gerlach said in a brief statement after the verdict was read. “As Christians, we believe in redemption. The greatest tragedy is that Mr. Brendon Kaluza-Graham will not have a chance to turn his life around.”
The family of the 25-year-old said they were disgusted with the way the media has portrayed Kaluza-Graham, saying their relative was made into a “one-dimensional thief.”
“He had hopes, and dreams,” Ann Kaluza said. She added “he was made into a poster boy for the angst of the community, a sacrificial lamb. That’s not right.”
Sharon Gerlach walked into Judge Annette Plese’s courtroom gripping the hand of her husband Thursday. Ann Kaluza said her heart was pounding as a packed courtroom waited for a verdict in the controversial case that Gerlach’s attorneys said was never about property crime.
“This case should have never been filed,” defense attorney David Stevens said. “This police handed this over without recommendations for a reason. You don’t take a vote on whether to file charges.”
The jury continued to deliberate Thursday afternoon as to whether the homicide could be deemed justified. If at least 10 jurors agree that Gerlach’s fatal shooting of Kaluza-Graham was justified self-defense, the public will end up paying for the trying of the case, which Stevens and colleague Richard Lee estimated to be close to $300,000.
Prosecutor Deric Martin told Kaluza-Graham’s family he was disappointed with the verdict and thanked them for their support. Many family members were present throughout the trial, which began with jury selection March 31.
Jurors rejected arguments from prosecutors Gerlach acted recklessly when he fired his semiautomatic handgun once through the rear window of his SUV as Kaluza-Graham drove away the morning of March 25, 2013. They also rejected the lesser claim he acted with criminal negligence, a requisite for second-degree manslaughter.
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