Crime

A man sentenced to 50 years for a shooting at a Tacoma gas station has won his appeal

Man who fired 48 shots at Tacoma gas station sentenced in court

Robert Grott was sentenced Friday, May 26, 2017, in Pierce County after being found guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 23-year-old Julian “Jay” Thomas in February 2016.
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Robert Grott was sentenced Friday, May 26, 2017, in Pierce County after being found guilty of second-degree murder for fatally shooting 23-year-old Julian “Jay” Thomas in February 2016.

A former Marine who said he fired 48 shots at a Tacoma gas station in self-defense needs a new trial, an appellate court said this week.

Jurors convicted Robert Grott of second-degree murder for the Feb. 1, 2016 shooting, which killed 23-year-old Julian “Jay” Thomas. They also found Grott guilty of seven counts of first-degree assault for bystanders who could have been hurt.

A three-judge panel of Division II of the Washington State Court of Appeals reversed those convictions Tuesday.

“Robert Grott is a good man who suffered from horrific PTSD, and he is entitled to a new trial,” said attorney Lise Ellner, who represented Grott in his appeal. “They didn’t do it right the first time.”

Deputy prosecutor Mark Von Wahlde told The News Tribune that he’s still reviewing the opinion.

“The options of a motion to reconsider or a motion for discretionary review to the (state) Supreme Court are still possibilities,” Von Wahlde said.

Grott, 32, argued at trial that he fired at Thomas in self-defense when the two had an encounter at the station at in the 3600 block of Center Street.

Court records say Grott and Thomas feuded about a missing gun and that Grott believed Thomas shot into his home months before the gas station shooting.

It was by chance that they came across each other at the gas station.

Grott was skateboarding past when he saw Thomas and started shooting as he advanced toward Thomas, charging papers said.

“It’s simple,” Grott said before he was sentenced to more than 50 years in prison in 2017. “I just didn’t want to die. ... I’m sorry that the man had to lose his life in the process, but I didn’t want to lose mine, so I fired.”

The 3-0 opinion from the appellate court said that Pierce County Superior Court Judge Bryan Chushcoff made an error by instructing the jury to decide whether Grott was the first aggressor.

“A first aggressor instruction informs the jury that if it determined Grott was the first aggressor, then his self-defense claim is unavailable and the jury does not have to consider whether the State has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant did not act in self-defense,” Judge Lisa Worswick wrote in an opinion signed by judges Lisa Sutton and Rich Melnick.

The opinion goes on to say: “To support a first aggressor instruction, the evidence would have to show that Grott made an intentional act before the shooting that a jury could reasonably assume would provoke a belligerent response. The evidence makes no such showing.”

Grott deployed to Afghanistan as a Marine and was honorably discharged in 2012.

He argued at trial that the shooting was consistent with his military training, and he asked jurors to consider how post-traumatic stress disorder may have affected him that day.

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Alexis Krell covers local, state and federal court cases that affect Pierce County. She started covering courts in 2016. Before that she wrote about crime and breaking news for almost four years as The News Tribune’s night reporter.


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