Okanogan County Hotel Shooting: Did Kino Michael Gomez Really Shoot Through a Closed Door?

Kino Michael Gomez is accused of first degree murder for shooting Tom Pfaeffle at a motel in Twisp, Washington on July 17th, 2009.   Judging by news reports the prosecutor and the defense lawyer agree on the following facts:   Gomez checked into room 7 of the motel.  Pfaeffle checked into room 8.  The two men did not know each other.   Later in the evening at 10 p.m., Pfaeffle mistakenly tried to entered room 7.  In response, Gomez shot Pfaeffle who died shortly thereafter.  The major disputed fact is how far did Pfaeffle go in trying to enter Gomez’s motel room.  Was the door open or shut?

According to the July 22nd, 2009 Omak-Chronicle, the  Prosecutor stated “the evidence shows the door was not open.”  The Seattle Times in a July 21st story quoted police as stating that Pfaeffle was shot “when he apparently put his room key into the wrong door Friday night. He was hit in the chest by a bullet fired through the closed door.”  In another story Twisp Police Chief Rick Balam was quoted as saying “There’s absolutely no question the door was closed when the shots were fired.”

Most people I talked to seemed to form a strong opinion as to the guilt of Kino Michael Gomez based on reading these law enforcement statements in the media.  Most people asked: “What kind of maniac would shoot through a closed door, just because someone unsuccessfully jiggled the door handle?”   The people posting comments on the internet also formed an opinion as to Gomez’s guilt based on the comments of the police that the suspect shot through a closed door.

“Assuming the man that fired the shots had a ‘legal’ right to own a gun, he has no excuse to fire random shots through a hotel door… at ANYONE.”  See Link.

“Why did he fire THRU the door-after he barred the door. It isnt like someone broke in- Who the fck fires thru a door because they think they are being robbed?”  See Link.

“A man paranoid enough to shoot through a closed door of a motel was probably up to no good to begin with.”
“I realize people make mistakes, but this is inexcuseable. YOU DON’T FIRE A GUN THROUGH A CLOSED DOOR.”

So does the evidence really show that Kino Michael Gomez shot through a closed door?   The Methow Valley News sent a reporter to the scene to to take photographs of the door which are posted online here and here.

Hmmmmmm.  It is not exactly as Twisp Police Chief Rick Balam described it.  He after all stated “There’s absolutely no question the door was closed when the shots were fired.”   Based on my experience prosecuting and defending homicide cases, the photographic evidence is more consistent with Kino Michael Gomez’s statement to the police.   Kino Michael Gomez was interviewed by Officer Ty Sheehan of the Twisp Police Department, and Gomez stated that “he had been concerned about the lack of a deadbolt on the door and had wedged a chair against the doorknob.”   Gomez told the police ” he awoke to the sound of someone trying to get into the room and had seen the door open and ‘a full silhouette’ of someone in his room.”  See story in Methow Valley News.   Gomez stated that he responded “like it was automatic,” shooting toward the door.

After I looked at the photographs, it appeared that the bullet hit the door frame, and based on the angle of the bullet, the door must have been half way open.

The good reporting of the Methow Valley News has raised a lot of questions in this case.  Good for them for doing their own reporting rather than simply repeating what the police said. The defense attorney Michael Haas is doing a thorough job of raising the right questions too, and has apparently sent his own investigators out to the scene of the shooting.  They had to act quickly because the motel was attempting to repair everything a.s.a.p.

Under Washington law, a person can use deadly force in self-defense if they believe they were in reasonable fear.   If a person claims that they used force against a perceived intruder, it would certainly be relevant how far the perceived intrusion went.  Dave Workman, author of Washington State Gun Rights and Responsibilities wrote an opinion piece on this case just after the incident.  See Link.  Like most of us at first, he understood the incident to involve shooting through a door that was closed.  I wonder if he has further insights based on Mr. Gomez’s version of events and the photographs and other recent developments.

It will be interesting to see how this case unfolds in the weeks to come.  I don’t envy the defense lawyer or the prosecutor in this case.  I have never met the defense lawyer on this case, but I know the prosecutor a little.   The best prosecutors on cases like this are tough, but also keep an open mind as to new developing facts that could change their mind.   I believes that describes this prosecutor.

What does every one else think about this case?  Can Kino Michael Gomez get a fair trial in Okanogan County?  Has anyone else noticed the racial overtones about some of the internet news comments out there?   I discussed in a blog post last month about friends and family of Amanda Knox who posted a internet site to support the defense of Amanda.  Should Kino Michael Gomez’s family also consider a similar campaign?   I also wrote in a blog post last month about the bearing of arms in public places.  What are the societal costs of an armed populace?

6 Responses to “Okanogan County Hotel Shooting: Did Kino Michael Gomez Really Shoot Through a Closed Door?”

  • Marfie:

    Great work graham. I think you should team up with the shutterbugs from the Methow Valley News to re-investigate the Kennedy assassination.

  • Mariah:

    I live near Twisp and our police department is in way over their head on this one. If Gomez hires a hotshot lawyer, he could easily walk on this. I don’t see a race issue here – and if any jury understands selfdefense it is a Twisp jury. The prosecutors are setting themselves up for a major fall by charging first degree murder.

  • G.S.:

    So what if the door lock was broken and the victim opened it? That is on the motel or the lock maker, not on the victim!

  • Susan:

    This entire incident is nothing shy of absurd and moreover, your hinting at racial discrimination is absolutely appalling.

    On multiple occasions throughout my lifetime, I’ve had housekeeping enter my room to clean while I was still there. Luckily for them, I’m caucasian and they’re still alive today.

    See how ridiculous that sounds?

    No, it’s a matter of using your head and exhibiting some common sense, regardless of ethnic background.

    Gomez is clearly an unstable man and this is made abundantly clear by his possession of two, yes two, Glock semi-automatic handguns which he was sleeping with in his waistband. Who does that? He’s not Bruce Willis, this isn’t Die Hard. And two guns?!

    What on earth was this man afraid of? This was in Twisp for God’s sake. A place where up until that night, the worst that could happen is having a run-in with a buck, not buck shot!

    Some serious mental evaluation is in order for this man.


  • Brad:

    What happened to this case?

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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