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Gail Gerlach

Gail Gerlach, right, and defense attorney David Stevens use a tape measure to estimate the distance Gerlach was from Brendon Kaluza-Graham as Kaluza-Graham sped off in Gerlach’s SUV in March 2013.

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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.

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