Jury deliberations begin in murder trial for suspect accused of shooting man near Pe Ell


A 12-person jury began deliberations Wednesday in the trial of Kelly David Hribar, who is accused of fatally shooting 40-year-old Leonard Kowalsky in the Pe Ell area in August. 

Hribar, 46, of Pe Ell, faces one count each of first-degree murder and second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm for allegedly firing three shotgun rounds toward Kowalsky from the shoulder of state Route 6 while Kowalsky was driving his 1994 Chevrolet Blazer near milepost 30 between 6:53 p.m. and 7:04 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 16. 

Hribar has been in custody at the Lewis County Jail without bail since his arrest on Aug. 17. The trial began Monday, Oct. 16. 

In this case, the jury is not tasked with determining whether or not Hribar murdered Kowalsky with a firearm that was illegal for him to have, as all parties agree the evidence supporting those allegations is indisputable. 

Instead, the jury seeks to determine whether Hribar is guilty of first-degree murder as charged by the state, or second-degree murder as argued by Hribar’s defense attorney. 

Both charges are class A felonies punishable by up to life in prison, but while Washington state law allows a judge to set a lower sentence for a second-degree murder conviction, life in prison is the mandatory sentence for a first-degree murder conviction. 

First-degree murder requires the state to prove the murder was premeditated, while second-degree murder does not. 

Washington state law defines premediation as “more than a moment in point of time.” 

Hribar and Kowalsky both visited the same gas station shortly before the shooting. Witnesses also at the station reportedly heard Hribar say he planned to confront Kowalsky, and surveillance footage shows Hribar drive away from the gas station — shortly after Kowalsky arrived — toward Kowalsky’s residence instead of toward his own home. Physical evidence from the scene and witness testimony show Kowalsky backed his pickup into the brush in an unofficial parking area on state Route 6 near the intersection with Katula Street, on which Hribar lived. Kowalsky reportedly drove past Hribar’s car west on state Route 6, made a U-turn and had started driving east back toward Pe Ell when Hribar shot him at least once, with the fatal bullet striking his left buttock and becoming lodged in his torso. 

In his closing argument on Wednesday, defense attorney Don Blair argued the prosecution failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Hribar planned to kill Kowalsky. 

Blair specifically pointed to a lack of evidence as to what happened in the seconds leading up to the murder, when Kowalsky drove by Hribar’s vehicle parked off the side of state Route 6 and turned around before he was shot. 

Blair additionally argued Kowalsky stopped his vehicle and opened the door to get out and confront Hribar before Hribar shot him. Deputy Prosecutor Scott Jackson argued Kowalsky turned to open his door to exit the vehicle in an attempt to get away from Hribar after he fired the first of three shots. 

The driver’s side door of Kowalsky’s vehicle was open when first responders arrived. 

Hribar, who declined to testify at trial, has previously claimed Kowalsky saw him waiting, “made a U-turn and then came back by him … yelling in an agitated manner at him,” which Hribar said prompted him to exit his vehicle with his shotgun, according to court documents.

“Why would (Kowalsky’s) driver’s door have been opened? We don’t know. Why did Mr. Kowalsky stop? We don’t know,” Blair said Wednesday. 

In his rebuttal, Jackson said he agreed with Blair’s statement that no one knows for sure what happened immediately before the shooting. 

“I agree we will never know that, and the one person who can tell us what that is who’s not lying is dead,” Jackson said. 

Arguing that Hribar did plan to kill Kowalsky before the murder, Jackson cited testimony from multiple witnesses who testified that Hribar verbally threatened to kill Kowalsky on multiple occasions stretching back to January, with at least one of those witnesses reporting the threats to police ahead of the August murder. 

“You know how you know he was serious? He did it,” Jackson said of the threats. “That’s how you know he premeditated it and he intended to do it.” 

The jury has unlimited time to deliberate on the evidence presented during trial before delivering a verdict. 

Once the jury decides on a verdict, Lewis County Superior Court will have 40 days to deliver Hribar’s sentence.