Dan Blasdel, Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel listens as Walla Walla County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabe Acosta questions potential jurors during the opening this morning of a coroner's inquest into the shooting death of Cesar Chavira.
Photo by Andy Porter.
Walla Walla A ruling in New York Store owner John Saul’s favor likely hasn’t settled the matter of his fatal shooting of Cesar Chavira in May.
A six-person coroner’s inquest jury ruled Friday that Saul, 63, committed justifiable homicide in the shooting death of Chavira, 22. The verdict came after three days of testimony and deliberation during an inquest called by Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood.
“Obviously we’re very disappointed,” said Michelle Trombley, an attorney from the Kennewick law firm of Rodriguez and Associates, representing the Chavira family. “We will ask the prosecuting attorney to disregard the jury verdict.”
Trombley also said the family intends to sue Saul.
The inquest came after a nearly three-month investigation into the shooting, which took place at roughly 2:30 a.m. on May 4 at the New York Store. Saul owns the western wear store and lives on the premises.
According to an investigation conducted by Sgt. Gary Bolster, lead detective with the county Sheriff’s Office, Chavira broke into the store and stole several belts and belt buckles from a display case.
Saul, according to police testimony, told officers he was awakened by the burglary and confronted Chavira, who threatened him; at that point Saul defended himself. Officers said Saul then asked to speak with an attorney before answering more questions.
Saul did not testify during the inquest. According to Bolster, it appeared Saul fired a 12-gauge shotgun from the front door of his shop in the direction of the Colonial Motel.
Bolster told the jury that based on extensive test firing of Saul’s shotgun, it appeared Saul fired the first shot when Chavira was more than 120 feet away. Subsequent shots were likely fired from 150 feet away, according to Bolster. Police found Chavira’s body lying in Isaacs Avenue near the Colonial Motel.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Daniel Selove testified that all the shotgun pellets struck Chavira from behind, including pellets that struck the 22-year-old in the side.
Trombley stated that none of the evidence showed Chavira was an imminent threat to Saul at the time of the shooting.
“We thought there was clear evidence,” Trombley said. “There is no indication there was any threat.”
Trombley also raised questions about instructions Presiding Coroner Dan Blasdel gave to jurors before they began deliberations.
“I think that the jurors got hung up on the instructions that the robberies were felonies,” Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel, invited to preside over the inquest by Greenwood, said during a press conference with reporters after the inquest.
According to Blasdel, the jury instructions were provided by the Walla Walla County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, and did not include instructions beyond what constitutes a justifiable homicide, including any definition of what can be considered an imminent threat.
The jury was not able to reach a verdict Thursday after testimony ended, and jurors were called back Friday morning to reach a majority consensus. The jury deliberated for roughly an hour and a half before returning with the justifiable homicide ruling.
The ruling is not binding, and Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Gabriel Acosta did not announce their plans afterward.
“Mr. Acosta and I are going to discuss the matter,” Nagle said.