Gail Gerlach shot and killed 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham on March 25, 2013. That fact was never in dispute, with Gerlach, a 56-year-old self-employed plumbing contractor, admitting as much to police after he called 911. Kaluza-Graham had stolen Gerlach’s 1997 Chevrolet Suburban and was driving away when Gerlach fired a single shot.
Gerlach claimed to be acting in self-defense when he fired, saying he believed he saw Kaluza-Graham pointing a gun at him as he drove away. The SUV contained all of Gerlach’s work tools and had been idling in his Chief Garry neighborhood driveway when Kaluza-Graham got in and drove away.
The case sparked widespread community discussion about property crime, property rights and gun rights. Supporters of Gerlach believed he did what he had to do to protect his livelihood from a thief. Others said no one person has the right to be judge and jury. Gerlach is a vocal Second Amendment activist; Kaluza-Graham was a convicted car thief.
Gerlach was charged with first-degree manslaughter, with a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Prior to trial, Spokane County Superior Court Judge Annette Plese threw out much of what Gerlach told police at the scene, saying he hadn’t properly been given his Miranda rights . Further, Judge Plese ruled that Sharon Gerlach, Gerlach’s wife, could not be present in the courtroom during the trial because she witnessed the shooting.
A jury of 11 women and one man acquitted Gerlach on April 10, 2014 on a 10-2 vote, finding that he acted in self-defense. Washington law holds that defendants and their legal representatives are entitled to be repaid for reasonable court fees and lost wages if the jury makes that decision. Gerlach’s five-member defense, including three attorneys and two expert witnesses, submitted a bill for nearly $330,000. Plese is evaluating the bill, which will be paid through taxpayer funds.
Gail Gerlach was born in Spokane and grew up in several cities between Spokane and Los Angeles as his parents moved frequently following work. Gerlach spent the last two years of high school in Gresham, Ore., near Portland.
As a teen, he worked at his father’s side doing plumbing work. At 19 he became one of the youngest journeyman plumbers in Oregon’s history at that time. He moved back to Spokane in 1976 and into Spokane’s Chief Garry neighborhood in 1981, where he’s lived ever since.
Gerlach has worked as a plumber with his father, the late Robert Gerlach, and his brother, Glenn, doing commercial and residential work.
He’s been with his wife for 25 years. The couple has two biological children and raised their daughter’s best friend as well.
After Gail Gerlach’s father passed away in 2001, he opened his own plumbing business, Gerlach Plumbing.
The truck Kaluza-Graham stole on that fateful day contained nearly all of Gerlach’s trade tools and plumbing supplies.
Gerlach referred to himself as a Reagan conservative and daily listener of Rush Limbaugh on a website called FreedomConnector. Under hobbies, he listed “defending my faith.”
He is not a sportsman, and although tweets from his Twitter account often espoused gun rights, he is not a member of the National Rifle Association.
Gerlach told police it was his habit each day to strap on his holster and gun before going to work.
Brendon Kaluza-Graham, 25, spent most his life in Spokane, born to parents who were just 14 and 16. He bounced around, living with his mother in Alaska, his father and both sets of grandparents.
He attended All Saints Grade School. His mother said he was very neat. As a young boy, he liked to listen to Buddy Holly as he went to sleep, she said.
Kaluza-Graham liked sports. He played football, basketball and baseball, his family said. He liked fast food, war movies and was considered a history buff.
He was outgoing, energetic and the kind of person who would take the heat for other people, said his grandmother, Ann Kaluza. He knew no strangers.
“We were always very proud of him,” she said.
During his freshman year at Ferris High School, he had an argument with another boy, and “that started a black cloud over Brendon’s head,” his grandmother said.
Kaluza-Graham’s history was riddled with trouble, including convictions for auto theft, joyriding and reckless driving.
“His joyriding was part of a culture of kids he was hanging out with,” his grandmother said. “He didn’t grow up really. He was acting more like a teenager.”
But he wanted to turn his life around. His goal was start his own landscaping business. As a start, he bought yard tools at garage sales. Meanwhile, he was looking for jobs.
Upon learning of the charges against Gerlach, his grandmother said, “This is all peripheral to me. The tragic loss of our grandson is what’s personal to me.” She added, “I would like for Mr. Gerlach to never own a gun again.”
1419 N. Lee St.
Location of Gerlach’s home and the crime scene
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