Feelings about the shooting at the New York Store remain intense. They have been festering since May 4, creating a potentially volatile situation.
Because of that raw emotion, Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood made a wise decision to call 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 when Chavira apparently burglarized the Isaacs Avenue store where Saul also lives.
Many in the community view this as a clear case of self-defense, while others believe Saul's actions went beyond merely protecting his life and property.
Prosecuting Attorney Jim Nagle said 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 to U-B reporters Luke Hegdal and Terry McConn.
It's possible the inquest will yield no more information than the Sheriff's Office investigation.
However, the fact that it will be conducted in the open as part of a public process will serve to help keep a lid on the rumors and curb the twisting of facts. It should result in bringing the truth to light as long as precautions are taken to make sure emotions are kept in check during the proceedings.
The inquest is scheduled for Aug. 8-10 at the Walla Walla Police Department. It will be conducted much like a jury trial, although the determination by the six-person panel will not be binding.
The jury will be asked to determine if the shooting was justified. Unlike a criminal trial, however, hearsay evidence will be allowed. Jury members and the "parties of interest," which include Saul and Chavira's family, will be allowed to ask questions during the proceedings.
Greenwood is having Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel preside over the inquest with former Walla Walla County Coroner Stephen Ames - who has experience overseeing a coroner's inquest - assisting. This, too, is a good call. This will allow Blasdel and Ames to remain focused on the inquest for the three days while Greenwood can attend to the usual coroner duties if needed.
"I wanted it to be completely independent and open," Greenwood said.
Airing the details of this emotional case in an open forum should give the public confidence this case will be resolved in a fair and just manner.