Grieving moms keep vigil at trial of accused gun-killer
From right: Ellen Menshew, Selena with flowers, her mother, and Hazel Brown, Alliance for Gun Responsibility organizer, in front of Selena's travel trailer in Kent, Wash. | Tim Wheeler / People's World

KENT, Wash.—For five weeks, Selena Taylor has attended the trial of Joshua Puloka, the gunman accused of murdering her son, Ezra Taylor, in a shootout at La Familia Sports Club, on Sept. 26, 2021.

Puloka, armed with his 9mm Lugar sidearm, is also accused of murdering Antoine Matthews and Angelia Hylton and wounding two others—one of whom later died of his wounds.

The trial, Judge Leroy McCullough presiding, is being held at the King County Superior Court in this suburb south of Seattle. The courtroom is crowded with the judge, jurors, stenographers, police officers, the defendant, and his attorneys, the two prosecutors, and a key witness, Detective Jay West, the first police officer to arrive at the scene of the massacre that deadly night in Des Moines.

The cramped three rows of public seating are packed with family survivors and members of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility who have come to the aid of the grieving families. Prominent in the public gallery are the mothers of two of the victims—Selena Taylor, Ezra Taylor’s mom, and Regina Matthews, Antoine Matthews’ mom.

People’s World was there at the invitation of Ellen Menshew, a local leader of the Alliance for Gun Responsibility in Clallam County.

The prosecutor turned on a video clip of the shootout. The crowd in the chamber—this reporter included—recoiled in shock when the video’s “pop-pop-pop” of gunfire filled the courtroom. Then, a bright pink Harley Davidson motorcycle roared across the screen—owned by Puloka, his get-away vehicle. The video showed the parking lot littered with bodies, wounded and dead.

The detective testified that not all the shells recovered from the scene came from Puloka’s firearm, but all three of those who died were killed by the 9mm bullets fired from his Lugar.

Yet Puloka is pleading “self-defense” in hopes of once again eluding prison for his repeated gun violence offenses.

Selena Taylor is on the left, Regina Matthews on the right. | Tim Wheeler / People’s World

In 2014, Puloka was charged with second-degree murder after allegedly shooting a man dead at a motorcycle club party in Seattle. He was acquitted but found guilty of third-degree assault and unlawful possession of a firearm. He shot a man in the leg in February 1999 and pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. He spent nine months in prison for that crime.

In March of that same year, he shot to death a man in Tukwila and was charged with second-degree manslaughter and spent six years in prison for that killing. And now, he is on trial for murdering three others. All this mayhem is carried out with guns, a bloodletting duplicated in countless massacres across the nation.

For Selena Taylor, it is an endless ordeal. She has parked her travel trailer along a driveway across from the courthouse. During the noon break in the trial, she invited her family, Alliance members, and this reporter to join her for lunch in her trailer.

“I was at home that night, Sept. 26, 2021,” she recalled. “I got a call from my daughter, ‘Ezra’s been shot.’ I got up, got dressed. I was headed for La Familia. Then I was told to go to Harborview Hospital. This was during COVID-19. I couldn’t even go inside the hospital. They didn’t even have his name. I didn’t know it at the time, but he was on the operating table. I didn’t find out until this trial that he passed away at 4:30 that morning.”

Ezra Taylor, she said, tears brimming in her eyes, was a gifted son, full of life and love for other people. “Ezra was a community person. He wanted everybody to know, ‘Keep it E-Z.’ That is what he stood for. He was an actor. He was enrolled in the New York Film Academy. He had just completed his first movie titled ‘It Takes Talent.’

“Every year on his birthday, Aug. 19, we have a celebration of his life. This year we are having it on Aug. 17 since it is a Saturday.”

In his memory, Selena added, she is dedicating her life to “making a difference in children’s lives, identifying children who are not active, not doing their work, disengaged, acting up in school. We want to identify them at an early age and give them the help they need. Ezra was engaged. He was lovable.”

Alliance for Gun Responsibility organizer Hazel Brown added. “We are an advocacy organization. Part of that means working with survivors of gun violence, making sure that their stories are told…and supporting them.”

Gun violence, she added, “is a leading cause of death,” yet the gun death rate in Washington State has declined because of laws enacted by the legislature or by ballot initiative that have banned the sales of assault weapons, high-magazine rifles, and other deadly weapons that kill over 30,000 people each year across the U.S.

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Tim Wheeler
Tim Wheeler

Tim Wheeler has written over 10,000 news reports, exposés, op-eds, and commentaries in his half-century as a journalist for the Worker, Daily World, and People’s World. Tim also served as editor of the People’s Weekly World newspaper.  His book News for the 99% is a selection of his writings over the last 50 years representing a history of the nation and the world from a working-class point of view. After residing in Baltimore for many years, Tim now lives in Sequim, Wash.