SPOKANE, Wash. - Very soon a Spokane jury will be deciding whether Gail Gerlach's shooting of a car thief last year was self-defense or manslaughter.
When they begin their deliberations, they will consider the words from Gerlach himself, who took the witness stand Wednesday and told the jury he fired the fatal round that struck and killed Brendon Kaluza-Graham, and that he fired it in self-defense.
Gerlach claimed he only drew the gun holstered on his hip after he saw Kaluza-Graham stealing his SUV turn in his seat and point what Gerlach thought was a gun. However it was clear prosecutors think Gerlach has embellished his testimony Wednesday to benefit his own defense.
As the defense's last and most important witness, Gerlach told the panel about the morning he walked outside and saw a stranger sitting in his idling Chevy Suburban.
"He sat pretty tall in the seat, he saw me come out and he looked right at me, not very long and then he diverted his eyes," Gerlach said.
Gerlach said he chased the Suburban as it backed of his driveway and then as the SUV moved forward away from his home, the rising sun back-lit the driver as he raised his arm.
"Only one thing went through my mind ... Oh s%&t I'm gonna die," he said.
That's when Gerlach said he pulled the gun from his holster.
"I came up looking directly at the back of the truck, right at the middle, maybe middle left, I know that the driver, who's a threat to me, is sitting in the driver's seat and as soon as I had that gun lined up with the driver's seat I fired," he said.
Gerlach said he wouldn't know until much later that his aim was true and his shot killed Kaluza-Graham almost instantly, and he told the jury he will always regret the entire incident.
"It's a tragedy. I didn't want it to have happened. If I could have avoided such a thing I would have avoided it," he said.
Under cross examination prosecutors asked Gerlach how he could testify Wednesday he felt Kaluza-Graham was holding a gun when the day of the shooting he couldn't even say what the suspect looked like.
In closing arguments prosecutors told the jury this shooting happened because Gerlach was angry about his truck being stolen and that only later Gerlach saw the need to claim self defense.
Once deliberations begin the jury has two charges to choose from: First-degree manslaughter, which means Gerlach's reckless actions caused the death of another, and second-degree manslaughter, which involves criminal negligence.
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