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chevy suburban SUV ap photo
Brendon Kaluza-Graham was trying to steal a Chevy Suburban, similar to the car pictured, when he was shot and killed by the car's owner. Now the community is debating whether the shooter should be charged with murder or if he used justified force. (AP Photo)

Spokane residents debate whether it's okay to kill to save your car

It's legal to shoot someone to protect your home, but should it be legal to shoot - and kill - someone to protect your car?

Dori thinks it should be legal, but the family of 25-year-old Brendon Kaluza-Graham, who was shot while trying to steal a man's car in Spokane, says using deadly force to stop a property crime should be murder.

According to reports, 56-year-old Gail Herbert Gerlach had left his Chevy Suburban running in his driveway to warm it up on a cold day when Brendon tried to drive away with it. Gail fired his gun, hitting Brendon in the head and killing him.

Gail said he saw Brendon raise his arm his direction. He thought Brendon had a gun. Police later searched the car and didn't find a weapon.

But after the shooting, KREM TV reported that Kaluza-Graham had been caught stealing cars four times in the past, and had been convicted of assaulting a police officer. Police report that he'd had multiple run-ins with law enforcement where he had been armed with knives.

The Spokesman-Review newspaper reported that Kaluza-Graham was born to teenage parents and raised by his grandparents.

Yet the thief's grandparents are calling him a "sweet kid" who made some mistakes in life. His grandmother said he was trying to turn his life around and she was trying to find him a job.

"He (Brendon) was much loved," said grandmother Ann Kaluza. "I know taking the car was wrong, but it's not a capital crime he needed to be executed for."

Gail, on the other hand, owns a plumbing business and has no criminal record.

Spokane police have not arrested the shooter so far, and Dori doesn't think they should. Even if Brendon weren't a dangerous criminal, Dori thinks the carjacker had it coming.

"This isn't just about property," said Dori. "This is about the most precious commodity that any of us have. And that's our time. And if you spend six months of your life, eight hours a day, five days a week for six months earning the money to buy that thing, then he's not just driving away a piece of property, he's driving away with six months of your life."

Dori asked his listeners to weigh in. Some felt it was too slippery slope, that justifying homicide based on someone trying to steal a car would set the precedent for people to kill over something far simpler. But the vast majority said they wouldn't call the shooting murder.

Listener Jason said he is a gun owner and an avid supporter of second amendment rights. Like the owner of the car, he has a concealed weapons permit, but he doesn't think the car thief deserved to die.

"The punishment does not fit the crime," he said. "For stealing a car, that sort of felony - if his life was not in danger, the kid does not deserve to necessarily be killed for that."

Listener Brent agreed with Dori, suggesting that if anybody could react violently to a thief, it might act as a deterrent stronger than the law.

But Dori went further, saying that a thief must anticipate that kind of reaction and just not care about the risks.

"Every thief has to understand that's the risk they take," said Dori. "And that's where I get back to if they care about their life so little, why should we care about their life more?"

What you're saying on Facebook:

Dwayne Sigh: Thieves know the risk that they may get shot or beat down. I say yes. Justified.

Michael Munsey: Yes. A century ago you could shoot someone for stealing your horse. It is time to modernize the law.

Kelli Manos: No, I'd say it's murder if nobody's life was in danger and if nobody's animals were in danger. If someone tried to steal one of my dogs or horses, you bet I'd shoot them in the head or back or wherever, or if they were trying to kidnap or hurt a person, sure. But if they were stealing my car (without my dogs or a person in it), then I wouldn't shoot them because, in my opinion, that would be murder. A car is just a car.

Jenifer Moore: you should never take something that doesn't belong to you, and if you do you better be ready for anything because you never know what someone will do to protect their stuff.

Chris Young: No, call 911, only if your life is in danger should you use deadly force. Having said that if your stupid enough to steal someone's car maybe you deserve to get shot.

Eric Yip: Justifiable homicide in Washington state is a very narrow definition. It doesn't cover theft of property. Most people don't understand the emotional and legal expenses to cover a criminal and possible civil case.

Would I mind legalizing lethal force to protect property? I don't really care either way. It doesn't impose a rash of problems if legalized, as seen in states like Texas.

Would I use lethal force to stop theft of my property even if it was legal? Probably no, it is not worth the hassle of engaging in a situation that I can avoid. I don't like paperwork and I don't care much for spending time and money in a courtroom. Not over property.

Gretchen Witschel: The ones saying yes it's ok to kill a thief... Would you feel the same way if someone you loved made a horrible choice to steal and then was shot and killed over it? Dead, gone, not alive anymore for you to tell him he made a horrible choice to steal someone's property.

Killed over a stupid car. Hmmm, a life no longer existing for a car.. Wow.

I'm sure nobody here has made a dumb choice in life huh? Has any of your stupid choices been worth getting killed over?

Sung Cho: How do we know that he wouldnt have turned the car around and tried to run down the owner?

This is total BS because cops do this all the time to criminals trying to get away and make an escape even when their lives are not at risk..

Now the victim is made out to be an ass because he stopped a scumbag thief?

Ily Osornio: To bad the thief didnt get a chance to learn his lesson but a murders its murders he should get charge for it. We all make mistakes and have to pay foe them...

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jillian Raftery, KIRO Radio Editor
Jillian Raftery is an afternoon editor at KIRO Radio. She loves the neighborly vibe of the Pacific Northwest and spends as much time as possible outdoors.
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