March 31, 2014 in City

Jury selection starts in Gerlach manslaughter trial

Most people know of the case
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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The list of people who will hear testimony in the manslaughter trial of Gail Gerlach shrunk Monday as attorneys challenged potential jurors and Gerlach’s wife was excluded from the courtroom for trial.

The day began with close to 100 subpoenaed jurors filling the courtroom presided over by Superior Court Judge Annette Plese. It ended with several of those summoned saying they’d heard a lot about the shooting death of 25-year-old Brendan Kaluza-Graham last March and questioning whether they’d be able to impartially look at the facts at trial.

“The person who stole the car made a bad decision that he paid for,” said one potential juror when asked if she’d developed an opinion of the case. That opinion was shared by several people called to serve on a panel that will decide if Gerlach, 56, should spend up to a decade in prison. He is charged with first-degree manslaughter after shooting Kaluza-Graham to death through the back window of his SUV as it sped away from his driveway March 25, 2013.

“We’re not trying to find people who haven’t heard about this case,” said defense attorney David Stevens after one of the potential jurors who said they heard of the case was challenged by prosecutors. “We’re looking for people who can put those things aside.”

Earlier, Plese ruled Sharon Gerlach, who reportedly witnessed her husband shooting Kaluza-Graham, could not be present in the courtroom once the trial begins. Defense attorneys listed Sharon Gerlach as a potential witness, though they’ve not said if they will call her to the stand once the trial begins. For that reason, prosecutors said she should remain outside the courtroom to keep her testimony from becoming biased by other witnesses.

“I understand the defense’s indication that she would provide emotional support,” prosecuting attorney Deric Martin said. “I am sympathetic to that position. But I don’t think that concern should outweigh the proper exclusion of witnesses.”

Plese agreed, ordering Sharon Gerlach remain outside the courtroom once testimony begins. She shared an embrace and private words with her husband after the decision was rendered.

Almost all those who filed into the courtroom after completing a preliminary eight-question survey said they’d heard something about the case from the news or social media. Most related a sketch of the details of that morning, including information relayed in police reports that Kaluza-Graham entered the car while it was running before being shot once in the back of the head by Gerlach, who left the car idling to warm up while he waited to take his wife to work.

One potential juror, who was not challenged by either side, said he read the newspaper in its entirety every morning but that shouldn’t keep him from sitting on the jury.

“When you read the newspaper cover to cover every day, there’s a lot of things you ignore,” he said, to some laughter in the courtroom.

Attorneys will question potential jurors in greater detail today in an attempt to whittle the list further to 12 people and at least two alternates. Plese will also decide on the admissibility of certain evidence, including Kaluza-Graham’s alleged drug use the morning of the shooting and other criminal history. Defense attorneys also want to introduce testimony about the protocol of investigators handling officer-involved shootings.

The trial is expected to last at least a week. Arguments in the case may not begin until Wednesday.


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