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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Manslaughter trial of Dwayne Thurman opens with description of shooting and chaotic aftermath

Dwayne Thurman, 44, exits court on Wednesday, March 28, 2018, at the Spokane County Courthouse in front of his defense attorney, Carl Oreskovich. Thurman is charged with first-degree manslaughter in the fatal shooting of his wife on Jan. 18, 2016. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Dwayne Thurman dabbed his eyes at times Wednesday as a string of law enforcement witnesses described to jurors the chaotic scene from 2016 after he and his adopted daughter rushed his dying wife to Valley Hospital.

While attorneys began the first-degree manslaughter trial with opening arguments, the case is expected to conclude Monday after Dwayne Thurman, 44, takes the witness stand to explain how he shot his wife, Brenda Thurman, in what his attorney previously called a tragic accident.

Defense attorney Carl Oreskovich told the jury about how Dwayne Thurman served six years in the U.S. Army and was working as a military police officer when he met Brenda. Oreskovich also noted that Thurman was working as a reserve deputy for the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department on Jan. 18, 2016, the morning he killed his wife.

“They were familiar with each other’s use of firearms and their training,” Oreskovich said. “They shot guns together at the range and in the woods at their friend’s property.”

Both earned master’s degrees from Eastern Washington University and both worked as counselors in separate offices for the Department of Veterans Affairs. But the day before the shooting, Oreskovich claimed that Brenda Thurman was having trouble with the .380-caliber Glock pistol that Dwayne purchased for her in August 2015 for her birthday.

After returning home from breakfast the next day, “He began to take Brenda’s gun apart. Unbeknownst to him, there was a bullet in the chamber … and it went off. It shot her,” Oreskovich said.

Deputy Spokane County Prosecutor John Love made no mention in his opening arguments about the standard gun safety instructions that anyone with law enforcement and military training would receive about how to handle firearms.

“The bullet struck (Brenda Thurman) right in the middle of her chest,” Love said. “The bullet that caused her death, the gun that fired that bullet, was in the hand of the defendant.”

After the gun fired, Love told the jury about how Brenda Thurman’s daughter, Gabrielle Corriette, “tries to get help. She and Mr. Thurman get Brenda Thurman into the car as soon as possible.”

Corriette, who changed her name from Thurman after the shooting, testified that she heard a noise and then a sound like dishes falling. She then heard Dwayne Thurman call out to her but only responded when he called a second time.

She rushed downstairs into the kitchen to find Dwayne Thurman “crouched” over her mother, who was struggling to breathe.

“She was on the floor. I said, ‘What happened. What did you do?’ ” Dwayne Thurman responded: “A gun went off,” she said.

Realizing her mother had been shot, Corriette, who has served seven years in the U.S. Air Force, attempted to help her mother breathe.

“At one point, Dwayne said we needed to call 911. I thought he had done that already and I was a little bit upset,” she said.

Corriette ran to get her cellphone, which had a dead battery. By the time she returned to her mother, Dwayne Thurman had called 911 and Spokane County Sheriff’s deputies were racing to the Spokane Valley home.

Detective Jerad Kiehn, who at the time was a deputy, testified that he followed Brenda Thurman’s car to the hospital and he walked into the room at Valley Hospital where Dwayne Thurman was sobbing. At one point, Thurman vomited into a sink.

“I asked him what happened,” Kiehn said. “He told me, ‘It’s my fault. I’m an idiot. The gun just went off.’ ”

Oreskovich raised an objection when Kiehn was asked about his conversation with Corriette. According to court records, the daughter asked Kiehn to arrest Dwayne Thurman for shooting her mother.

The testimony thus far also has not included any mention that Dwayne Thurman texted a woman he was having an affair with before the shooting. The woman then called Thurman while he was being questioned by detectives.

In the afternoon, former Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory technician Glenn Davis testified that Brenda Thurman’s gun worked as it was designed and he could not get it to malfunction as long as the clip was properly loaded into the handle of the gun.

Davis testified that the only way the Glock would have fired at Brenda Thurman is if Dwayne Thurman pulled the trigger.

Asked to explain how to break down a Glock for testing, Davis started by saying that the user should first move back the slide to check to make sure the gun was not loaded. At that point Oreskovich objected, based on the scope of questioning.

Superior Court Judge Timothy Fennessy later ruled that, as an expert, Davis was qualified to explain to the jury how to properly break down the weapon. Davis said that with “the pistol pointed at a safe direction” the trigger is pulled to allow the user to manipulate the gun’s slide forward to allow it to be cleaned.

Love later called Lincoln County civil deputy Cathy Wilcox. She produced records of several training shoots that Dwayne Thurman completed while working as a reserve deputy.

Attorneys argued over their relevance, but Fennessy allowed prosecutors to show the jury that 10 times over eight years Thurman signed county records acknowledging he understood the four universal-gun safety rules: A gun should always be considered loaded; don’t point the gun at anything unless you intend to shoot; keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire; and always be sure of your target.

The day concluded with the testimony of Spokane County Medical Examiner Dr. Sally Aiken. She testified that the bullet that killed Brenda Thurman struck her directly in the center of the upper chest.

The bullet drove downward about 5 inches from the point of impact, twice struck the aorta and passed through her heart. The bullet caused her to internally bleed to death.

While Aiken said she could have ruled the death a homicide, which means the death came at the hands of another human, Aiken said she ruled the death as an “accident” based on information she got from Spokane County Sheriff’s detectives, who attended the autopsy.

“That was the information provided at the time,” Aiken said to questions from Oreskovich about why she ruled the shooting an accident. “Because of the lack of apparent intent.”