Closing arguments are expected this week in the aggravated first-degree murder trial of Christopher Monfort, who is accused of fatally ambushing a Seattle officer in fall 2009. The defense contends Monfort suffered from a delusional disorder and was insane at the time.
A King County jury is to hear closing arguments this week and then will be asked to decide whether Christopher Monfort was a delusional madman or an inept extremist when he allegedly launched a one-man war against the Seattle Police Department in October 2009.
Even his defense team has said there really is no doubt that Monfort set off pipe bombs that destroyed police vehicles and later stalked and fatally ambushed Officer Timothy Brenton, shooting him with an assault-style rifle as he and his then-rookie partner sat in a patrol car.
Charged with aggravated first-degree murder in connection with Brenton’s killing, Monfort won’t face the possible specter of the death penalty until after jurors first consider the question of his mental state at the time of his alleged crimes.
Monfort has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to five felonies, including aggravated murder, the only crime for which death is a possible punishment.
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To find Monfort not guilty by reason of insanity, jurors would have to unanimously agree he suffered from a mental disease or defect and, as a result, was unable to tell right from wrong.
The trial began in January, with the state presenting overwhelming evidence — including DNA and ballistics — tying Monfort to the Oct. 22, 2009, firebombing of police vehicles at the city’s Charles Street maintenance yard and the shooting nine days later that killed Brenton on a residential street in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood.
Jurors also heard how Monfort allegedly tried to shoot a homicide sergeant investigating Brenton’s death before Monfort was shot in the face and abdomen Nov. 6 outside his Tukwila apartment.
Monfort was paralyzed below the waist and because of his injuries, the trial has proceeded at a slower-than-normal pace since Monfort can only sit in his wheelchair for two hours at a time. Monfort has appeared to be in physical pain at times during the course of the trial, and last week, it looked like he dozed off repeatedly, his shoulders hunched and his head resting on the defense table.
In early April, the defense launched its case aimed at proving Monfort was and is mentally ill and is, therefore, not criminally responsible for his alleged crimes.
Since then, the jury has heard conflicting testimony from the defense’s star witness, a forensic psychologist from Texas, and the state’s rebuttal witness, a Boston psychiatrist who has consulted with the FBI and other federal agencies on terrorism.
The defense witness, Dr. Mark Cunningham, opined that Monfort suffers from a delusional disorder and believed that if he randomly killed enough police officers, a “tipping point” would be reached and good cops would begin policing bad cops, thereby stopping incidents of police brutality. He considered bad cops to be a murderous gang of thugs who terrorized the citizenry and justified his conduct through an inaccurate reading of early American history, Cunningham testified. He also said Monfort believed killing police was morally justified and constitutionally correct.
The state’s rebuttal witness, Dr. Ronald Schouten, testified that while Monfort had characteristics of narcissistic and borderline personality disorders, he knew his extremist views weren’t shared by others. Monfort knew killing a police officer was grounds for arrest and prosecution — evidence he knew his actions were wrong, said Schouten, who likened Monfort to others who have violently acted on their extreme beliefs.
Cunningham testified about a TV news report that was shown numerous times to the jury: The video showed Monfort in court in February 2010 ranting about police brutality — evidence, Cunningham said, of his agitated state when talking about the subject of his delusion.
But on cross-examination, the state questioned Cunningham about phone conversations Monfort had with an acquaintance both before and after that court hearing. Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Castleton introduced transcripts of the jail phone calls in which Monfort told the other man days earlier to expect “fireworks” in court.
After Monfort’s court appearance, the man voiced concern that Monfort’s courtroom antics would diminish the credibility of his anti-police brutality message, the jury heard.
Though the state completed presenting direct testimony in late March, Castleton and Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird called Schouten as a rebuttal witness and didn’t rest until May 18. The defense rested this past Thursday.
This week, Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler will hear two defense motions for a mistrial — the first one based on the judge’s dismissal of a state witness after cross-examination by the defense veered into territory the judge considered far outside the witness’s expertise.
The second motion for mistrial accuses the state of prosecutorial misconduct in cross-examining Cunningham, when Castleton elicited a veiled reference to the November 2009 fatal shootings of four Lakewood police officers in a Pierce County coffee shop. Cunningham acknowledged Monfort took credit for inspiring the gunman, which the defense argued was inadmissible based on a pretrial ruling.
Provided the motions for mistrial are denied, closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday,with the case likely going to the jury by Friday.
After closing arguments, Kessler will also rule on a defense motion to acquit Monfort on the basis of insanity. Kessler said Thursday he will make his ruling and seal it in an envelope to avoid the possibility of “publicity taint” while the jury deliberates.
His ruling on the insanity question won’t be announced until after the jury reaches its verdict.