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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Jury deliberating manslaughter case against Dwayne Thurman

Dwayne Thurman leaves the courtroom after a hearing last year. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Dwayne Thurman cried and took gasps of breath Monday as he struggled to tell a jury how he shot his wife in the heart as he was trying to break down a Glock .380 caliber handgun to clean it.

The jury deliberated about two hours Monday and will resume Tuesday, trying to decide whether Thurman, 44, is criminally negligent for how he mishandled the gun that killed his wife, Brenda Thurman, on Jan. 18, 2016. Or, as the defense suggested, that Thurman made a tragic, accidental mistake that could have happened to anyone.

Earlier Monday, Thurman rocked in his seat and dabbed his eyes as he described how he killed his wife. He said he was manipulating the slide of the handgun that he bought her for her birthday the previous August when “the gun goes off.

“I look up. She’s sitting in the chair in front of me. She pushed back on her chair … and falls to the ground,” Thurman said. “Baby, I didn’t know. I rolled her over. There is no exit wound. I started screaming, ‘Gabrielle.’ ”

A gun expert and several law enforcement witnesses testified earlier in the trial that the only way to remove the slide action from a Glock pistol is to first pull the trigger, but Thurman said he couldn’t remember performing that task. He testified he had performed exactly the same operation just seconds before on his own Glock pistol.

“I don’t recall. It happened so fast,” he said when asked if he pulled the trigger.

“You are well aware that you have to pull the trigger to remove the slide,” Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor John Love said. “Do you remember telling Deputy (Jerad) Kiehn that you pulled the trigger?”

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich, in his closing argument, pleaded with the jury to find Thurman not guilty of first-degree manslaughter. Oreskovich said his client made a tragic mistake when he failed to make sure the gun was not loaded.

Brenda Thurman “came to where he was dismantling the gun. She sat down next to him,” Oreskovich said. “She didn’t know the gun was loaded, either. Both of them thought the gun was unloaded. Both of them suffered the tragic circumstances of a tragic accident. But it was an accident, not a crime.”

But Love said Dwayne Thurman’s experience as a military police officer in the U.S. Army and eight years as a reserve deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office made the case more than just a tragic accident.

“Yes it is a crime. Yes, it is tragic. Nobody wants Brenda Thurman to be gone,” Love said. “I didn’t mean it … doesn’t excuse reckless behavior. The No. 1 rule of gun safety is that all guns are always loaded.

“Never point the gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. Don’t put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot. Take away just one of those and we are not here today.”

Thurman said his wife’s Glock pistol was malfunctioning about “95 percent of the time” when she shot the weapon at a gun range the day before she was killed. The gun later was tested by the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory and found to be working exactly as designed.

On the morning of the shooting, Thurman said his wife was sitting on their couch and researching on her iPad about Glock malfunctions when he started to break down the pistols for cleaning.

He said he didn’t realize that his wife had gotten up, approached the table and sat down as he was manipulating the guns. He said he realized where she was only after the shot rang out and he looked up to see a surprised look on her face.

“When you took her gun apart, was she seated there?” Oreskovich asked.

“I don’t know,” Thurman said.

Love then pressed Thurman about where his wife was located.

“You pointed the gun directly across the table?” Love asked him. “I didn’t know she was there,” he responded.

“Mr. Thurman, the gun was pointed directly at her chest when it fired,” Love continued.

“I know now,” Thurman said.

In his closing argument, Love said “the firearm did not cause the death of Brenda Thurman. The reckless handling of the firearm caused the death of Brenda Thurman.

“This is not an ‘oops,’ ” Love continued. “It’s not a toaster. It’s not a hatchet. It’s a firearm. Anytime anyone picks up a firearm you know where the trigger is. (Thurman) may not want to come to grips with it, but he” pulled the trigger.