WALLA WALLA, Wash. - The jury in the Walla Walla Coroner's Inquest has decided the shooting death of 22-year-old Cesar Chavira was a "justified homicide."
Police say Chavira was robbing the New York Western Outfitters store in Walla Walla on May 4th, when the store owner, 63-year-old John Saul, shot him. The six member jury panel had to decide if Chavira posed a threat to Saul, prompting him to shoot.
The jury's decision in the Coroner's Inquest is not legally binding, but the Walla Walla County Prosecutor will now take that information and decide if the store owner will face charges.
Saul was not at the inquest for the verdict reading. His attorney, Michael Hubbard says Saul has received threats and is worried about the safety of his employees at New York Western Outfitters.
Family of Cesar Chavira said they weren't surprised. His uncle, Arturo Alejandre said Thursday he believes race and his nephew's criminal past played a part in this decision. "I don't want to bring racism into it but it plays a lot into it. We grew up here, we're citizens. And we deserve the same rights as anybody else....Are we in a city that doesn't believe, that everybody is equal?," asked Alejandre.
Chavira's family attorney, Michelle Trombley with Rodriguez and Associates spoke for the family Friday. "We were very disappointed with the verdict as it came out today. we thought there was clear evidence that this was not a justifiable homicide, and as of last night at least three jurors agreed with us," she says. "Mr. Chavira was shot in the back as he was running away, five times."
Five shells from the 1946 Winchester Model 12 shotgun were found outside the store door. Sgt. Gary Bolster, the firearms expert and detective for Walla Walla Sheriff's Office testified Thursday that he believes the shots were fired from inside the store, near the entrance, pointing outside the broken glass door. Bolster also said he believes all five rounds were fired in a row, with no breaks in between and he says all five rounds managed to hit Chavira with pellets to some extent. Bolster says the first shot was from at least 120 feet away.
Chavira, a known gang member has been arrested 19 times since 2004. He has six felony convictions including theft and assault. He also has seven gross misdemeanors on file. However he was not armed the night he was shot and killed.
Karin Western, an acquaintance of Saul and a fellow business owner thought justice was served. "If he hadn't been there, he wouldn't have been shot. Yeah he was leaving. Who knows if he was coming back in an hour with five other people. Who knew if they were going to come back the next night. Who knew if he was going to come back right then in ten minutes from a car with a gun and say oh I see you're alone, I'll just take care of this," she said.
Walla Walla County Prosecutor Jim Nagle says he will review the decision along with the evidence presented and decide within the next few weeks whether to criminally charge Saul. Chivara's family says they'll be filing a civil suit regardless of what is decided.