Attorneys for the family of a Walla Walla man fatally shot in May outside the New York Store are speaking out against the decision by the Walla Walla County prosecutor not to charge the store owner.
Prosecutor Jim Nagle on Monday said that he would not charge John Saul with homicide in the May 4 death of Cesar Chavira, 22.
The decision came after a special jury seated for a coroner's inquest last week determined Saul, 63, was justified when he shot Chavira, 22, after Chavira broke into his store.
Chavira's family was "deeply saddened and extremely disappointed" in the inquest's verdict, Kennewick attorneys Michelle Trombley and Norma Rodriguez said in a written statement Monday.
"We are very concerned that the prosecutor has declined to file charges in what is so obviously a homicide that cannot be justified as self-defense," the attorneys said.
They said the evidence clearly showed the shooting was not justifiable homicide and at one point three jurors thought that when the jury was deadlocked at the end of deliberations Thursday.
Jurors returned Friday morning and reached a verdict after another 90 minutes of deliberating.
During the inquest, testimony showed Chavira was hit in the back by at least 49 pellets after Saul fired at him five times with a shotgun.
Chavira was running away from the store and was outside in the middle of the street when he first was shot. Saul reportedly told officers that Chavira had threatened him but asked for an attorney when officers asked for more details about the threat.
"For a homicide to be justified, there must have been a showing of some kind of danger at the time Mr. Saul fired the gun five times," the attorneys said.
Nagle announced his decision in a letter Walla Walla County Sheriff John Turner and Walla Walla County Coroner Richard Greenwood.
He said state law gives people the right to protect themselves or property and, in certain circumstances, to lawfully attempt to stop a fleeing felon.
He said the verdict in the inquest indicated how difficult prosecuting the case would be and the jury's decision was "informative and useful."
"It is highly likely that a criminal jury would find that Saul acted on his reasonable belief that he was defending himself and his property at 2:30 in the morning in his darkened store."
Nagle said prosecutors would not be able to prove Saul knew Chavira was unarmed and speculated that Saul may have believed Chavira was armed.
Nagle said a "careful review of the facts, applicable law, the inquest verdict and likely defenses that could be raised," led him to decline to file criminal charges against Saul.
Attorneys for Chavira's family, however, said that there was no testimony that Chavira was armed or doing anything but running away when he was shot.
"Wild speculation" about what Saul heard or feared can't be used as evidence, they said.
"You cannot kill someone for stealing," the attorneys said. "There is a reason why we have law enforcement and the criminal justice system."
The attorneys also said the inquest didn't allow attorneys to make closing arguments, which would offer an explanation and clarification of the jury instructions.
"The fact that the prosecutor had to wait for the determination of the jury in the coroner's inquest is further indication that he is more concerned with the popularity of his decision than his duty to seek justice," the attorneys said.
-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; firstname.lastname@example.org