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Sunday, April 21, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gail Gerlach manslaughter trial begins this week

Gail Gerlach will go before a jury this week, facing up to a decade in prison on a manslaughter charge accusing him of shooting dead a man who had stolen his car out of his driveway.

Gerlach, 57, fired a single round from his handgun through the back window of his 1997 Chevrolet Suburban on the morning of March 25, 2013. The bullet struck the driver, 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham, in the back of his head just above the hairline, severing his spine and killing him “almost instantly,” according to a medical examiner’s report.

The SUV was filled with Gerlach’s plumbing tools and was idling in the driveway of his Chief Garry neighborhood home when Kaluza-Graham got in and sped away.

A weekslong investigation followed, including statements from Gerlach at the scene about being unsure whether he did the right thing and repeatedly expressing concern about the driver being injured. Prosecutors filed the manslaughter charge in late May.

A judge has since ruled that many of Gerlach’s statements to responding police officers will not be heard by jurors because he hadn’t properly been informed of his Miranda rights when those things were said.

Gerlach’s defense is expected to argue that the self-employed plumber shot because he feared for his life and that of his wife, Sharon, who was also in the driveway at the time of the shooting. Gerlach told officers he saw Kaluza-Graham raise his hand carrying what he thought was a gun. Kaluza-Graham was not armed when his body was discovered in the crashed SUV a couple of blocks away, according to police records.

Jurors will hear from multiple detectives who questioned witnesses and analyzed the Suburban, Gerlach’s firearm and Kaluza-Graham’s body.

Potential jurors will be questioned about ties to the National Rifle Association, which declined to offer financial assistance for Gerlach’s defense, and the American Civil Liberties Union, according to court documents.

Defense attorneys Richard Lee and David Stevens have asked Judge Annette Plese, who will hear the case, to admit evidence of Kaluza-Graham’s criminal activity and drug use. Prosecutor Deric Martin has asked that information not be told to jurors.

“Specific incidences of Kaluza-Graham’s past conduct would not be relevant to showing Gerlach had a reasonable fear of Kaluza-Graham,” Martin wrote in pretrial paperwork. Gerlach fired without knowledge of who Kaluza-Graham was and whether he had drugs in his system, rendering such evidence potentially prejudicial and not relevant to the criminal charge, Martin argued.

The defense says admitting evidence of Kaluza-Graham’s criminal history is necessary “to show his motive, intent, and plans to do whatever it took not to get caught in a stolen car,” according to court documents.

A search of Kaluza-Graham’s body revealed 25 grams of a crystalline substance that was not field-tested for evidence of drugs, according to police records. Kaluza-Graham had methamphetamine in his system at the time he was killed, according to a toxicology report.

Jury selection in the trial will begin Monday, after an unsuccessful attempt by the prosecution last week to delay trial to argue whether certain evidence could be admitted. Plese instead will make final decisions on what evidence may be admitted before opening statements, which are expected to begin Tuesday afternoon.

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