Opening statements heard Wednesday in Gerlach manslaughter trial

SPOKANE, Wash. - A Spokane jury listened to the long-awaited opening statements Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of Gail Gerlach, who is suspected of shooting 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham as he drove away in Gerlach's stolen SUV last March.

One of the first things heard in court Wednesday was exactly what Gerlach told dispatchers in the moments after the shooting, most significantly that Gerlach thought the car theft suspect had reached for a weapon and it was Gerlach who worried he was about to get shot.

"Members of the jury, this case has a theme, and the theme of this case is the sight of fear," defense attorney Richard Lee said.

Gerlach's defense team wasted little time telling the jury their client was acting out of fear the day he shot Kaluza-Graham; not fear of losing his Chevy Suburban but fear about what the suspect would do next after Gerlach confronted the thief in his driveway.

"He's not caring about the SUV anymore. He sees something far more important that. He sees this. He sees this," Lee said.

Gerlach said he felt the suspect was now pointing a gun at him and that Gerlach was about to get shot, a claim he first made to 911 dispatchers after Kaluza-Graham had crashed the stolen SUV.

Dispatcher: OK where did the vehicle crash?
Gerlach: Couple blocks south of my house here.
Dispatcher: On Lee Street?
Gerlach: I don't know where he went.  I don't know if he's still going or what.  He leaned back, he pointed at me.  I don't know what he pointed but he scared the s#$t out of me.

However prosecutors said Gerlach could not have seen Kaluza-Graham point anything because he was already driving away the road and obscured by heavily tinted windows.

"As he's going down the street, approximately 60 feet away, Mr. Gerlach came out to the edge of his driveway, racked the slide on his 9mm semi-automatic handgun and fired a single shot after the car," deputy prosecutor Deric Martin said.

Prosecutors plan to show the jury that single shot passed through the rear window of the SUV and that Kaluza-Graham was no longer a threat to Gerlach.

"You'll see that Mr. Kaluza-Graham was not turned facing Mr. Gerlach as Mr. Gerlach described but was in fact shot directly in the back of the head as he was facing forward directly through the back of that seat," Martin said.

Martin went on to say the community is lucky no one else was hurt that morning either by either Gerlach's bullet or his out of control Suburban after its driver was shot and killed, while Gerlach's defense team said he is the real victim in the case.

Because Gerlach was charged with manslaughter, prosecutors only have to prove his reckless actions caused the death of another. If they are successful and Gerlach is convicted of manslaughter he could face up to 10 years in prison.