Inquest jurors haven't reached decision in Walla Walla shooting

WALLA WALLA -- Jurors tasked with determining if a Walla Walla store owner was justified when he fatally shot a suspected burglar were not able to reach a decision Thursday.

The jury seated for the coroner's inquest deliberated for about an hour after hearing two days of testimony but did not come to a conclusion, said Walla Walla Coroner Richard Greenwood.

"They actually came to an even split," he told the Herald.

The six-member jury does not have to reach a unanimous decision, but there does need to be a majority consensus.

The jury's ruling, however, is advisory. The ultimate decision on whether John Saul would face criminal charges is up to the Walla Walla County prosecutor.

They will return today to the Walla Walla police station to resume deliberations. Franklin County Coroner Dan Blasdel is presiding over the inquest.

On Thursday, jurors heard a detective testify that Cesar Chavira was running away from the New York Store, which he apparently had broken into, and likely was in the street near the fog line when he first was shot.

Chavira, 22, died May 4 after he was shot by Saul, who reportedly told investigators he was threatened by Chavira.

Walla Walla County sheriff's Detective Sgt. Gary Bolster spent about an hour explaining how he test fired Saul's shotgun to try to determine how far away Chavira was when he got shot.

Depending on the tightness of the pattern of the pellets from the shotgun shells, Bolster said, the distance of the shot can be determined.

He also said the first sign of blood, a single drop, was found in the middle of Isaacs Avenue next to a pink belt from the store. It was about 114 feet away from the front door of the store.

Bolster said he believes Chavira was shot either where the first blood drop was found or before that drop.

"He could have been shot earlier, in that I don't know how quickly a spot of blood would have gotten to the street," he said. "I believe he was probably at least to the curb or the fog line based on the pattern testing before he was hit."

Chavira's body was found about 250 feet from the front of the store. Bolster said Chavira was in the street but in front the door to the Colonial Motel.

Bolster also used the test firing to see how the ammunition hulls for the buck shot fell to try to determine where Saul was when he fired the five rounds.

"I was able to determine the shooter must have been basically standing at the doorway, more than likely shooting through the door that had the glass broken out," Bolster said.

Each of the five shotgun rounds contain 26 or 27 pellets, Bolster said. Chavira was hit by 49 pellets, with the majority striking him on the back, as if he was going away from the store at an angle, he said.

Investigators also found that two pellets hit Chavira's bicycle, one hit a bush behind the bike and one hit a stick along the street near the bush.

Twenty-nine pellets struck the motel, including six that went through the triple-pane office window, Bolster said. The other pellets were not accounted for, and could have gone up onto the roof, but Bolster said he did not climb onto the roof to check.

Gabriel Acosta, a Walla Walla deputy prosecutor who questioned the witnesses, asked Bolster if Chavira was wearing anything or had anything on him that appeared to be a weapon.

"Nothing he was wearing, but there was a belt buckle and a number of belts ... that have a lot of bling on them," Bolster said. "Based on where the belts were found, I believe he was carrying the belts in his left hand at the time he was leaving the store."

Daniel Selove, a forensic pathologist from Everett who performed the autopsy on Chavira, also testified about the number of wounds caused by pellets found on Chavira. Autopsy photos also were shown and elicited a gasp from the audience when they saw the picture of Chavira's back with the multiple pellet wounds.

Selove said many of the pellets went into Chavira's body from left to right, back to front with a slightly upward trajectory. He said that's consistent with someone being on foot and walking rapidly or running and bending forward, possibly on a bike.

Two pellets struck each of Chavira's lungs, making it difficult for Chavira to breathe. One passed through his aorta, and two went through his liver, Selova said.

Chavira suffered significant blood loss internally and externally, he said. The cause of death was multiple shotgun wounds to the trunk.

-- Paula Horton: 582-1556; phorton@tricityherald.com