Coroner inquest set in shooting

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WALLA WALLA - Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood has called for a coroner's inquest into the shooting death of Cesar H. Chavira.

Chavira was shot by New York Store owner John Saul in the early morning hours of May 4 when Chavira apparently burglarized the western apparel store.

According to Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle, the Sheriff's Office investigation is complete.

"At this point in time, I am awaiting the outcome of the inquest, as I think the inquest proceeding may be useful in making any charging decisions," Nagle wrote in an email this morning.

Questions about how and where Chavira was shot have prompted protests by Chavira's friends and family. According to Greenwood, the inquest will allow the public a chance to hear from all sides, and examine the evidence in the investigation.

The public inquest, scheduled for Aug. 8-10, will operate much like a jury trial, according to Greenwood. Six jurors will be selected from the county jury pool, and all testimony given during the inquest will be under oath. The jury will be asked to determine if the shooting was justified or not. The determination will not be binding on the prosecuting attorney, however.

Unlike a formal trial, however, hearsay evidence will be allowed during the inquest. Also, jury members and the "parties of interest," which include Saul and Chavira's family, will be allowed to ask questions during the proceedings.

"The parties can all ask questions through their attorneys," Greenwood said, adding the questions will be submitted in writing, and given to the presiding coroner.

Greenwood said Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel will preside at the inquest, and former Walla Walla County Coroner Stephen Ames will assist.

"The three of us will all be involved," Greenwood said. "I wanted it to be completely independent and open."

Greenwood added Blasdel and Ames both have experience with running an inquest, and having an outside coroner handle the proceedings allows Greenwood to perform his normal duties without interrupting the inquest.

Ames presided over the last inquest in Walla Walla County, an officer-involved shooting in College Place in 1993. In that case, the inquest jury ruled Officer Dan Kelly was justified in shooting 29-year-old Ted Rathbun.

The inquest will be held at the Walla Walla Police Department, 54 E. Moore St.

Luke Hegdal can be reached at lukehegdal@wwub.com or 526-8326.

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