Accused of a bomb attack on police vehicles and the later killing of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton, Christopher Monfort could face the death penalty.
A King County jury filed out of the courtroom a few minutes after 10 a.m. Monday to begin deliberations in the capital-murder trial of Christopher Monfort, who is accused of stalking and fatally ambushing a Seattle police officer on Halloween night 2009 as part of a larger plot to kill police.
Following closing arguments last week, attorneys for the state and defense made last-ditch appeals on Monday to jurors who were selected from an original pool of 1,170 people in January and have heard testimony over roughly 18 weeks.
The crux of the case against Monfort, 46, centers on his mental state at the time of his alleged crimes. He is accused of setting a fire and detonating pipe bombs that destroyed police vehicles at the city’s Charles Street maintenance yard on Oct. 22, 2009, and nine days later pulling alongside Timothy Brenton’s patrol car and firing into the vehicle, killing the 39-year-old officer.
Monfort, 46, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to five felony charges, including aggravated first-degree murder for Brenton’s death — a crime for which death is a possible penalty.
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“Ladies and gentlemen, at the end of the day, the question you have to ask yourselves is: ‘Was the defendant suffering a mental disease or defect to such an extent he couldn’t tell right from wrong?’ ” said Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Castleton. “The answer is no.”
While the state agreed Monfort had a terrible childhood and was the victim of racism and bullying, Castleton contends he was never insane.
“He knew that society, that you, would find it wrong to kill police officers,” Castleton said. “He knew that was wrong. He just didn’t care.”
Defense attorney Carl Luer said Monfort called himself a “citizen soldier” and did not consider his actions to be crimes, instead casting them as “a teaching process.” The defense argued that Monfort believed killing police officers would put an end to police brutality.
“He believed the first people to act would get chewed up by the system, but people would come to believe he was right,” Luer said.
Aside from the state, Luer said, “There is one person in the courtroom who believes … he wasn’t delusional, and that’s Chris himself.”
In addition to aggravated murder, Monfort is charged with first-degree arson and attempted first-degree murder for allegedly setting off pipe bombs and trying to kill police officers responding to the Charles Street scene. He is also charged with two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly attempting to kill Brenton’s then-rookie partner, Britt Kelly (nee Sweeney), and Sgt. Gary Nelson, who was investigating Brenton’s homicide on Nov. 6, 2009, when Monfort confronted him with a handgun and pulled the trigger.
Jurors were told the weapon failed to fire because Monfort didn’t chamber a round. Police shot Monfort twice on the breezeway of his building, steps from his apartment door, and he was paralyzed below the waist.
They also were told Monfort stockpiled weapons and explosives inside his Tukwila apartment in anticipation of a last stand against police. Five firearms — the Kel-Tec assault-style rifle used to kill Brenton, Monfort’s handgun and the duty weapons of the three homicide investigators who fired on Monfort in Tukwila — are among the 314 exhibits that were admitted as evidence in the case.
Due to the volume of items the jurors will be able to access while they deliberate, the jury of six men and six women were briefly escorted to a jury room down the hall from the courtroom so that the exhibits could be moved into their regular jury room, which is attached to Kessler’s court.
After the jury was removed from the courtroom, Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler heard brief arguments before denying a defense motion for a mistrial.
Luer had claimed the state violated a pretrial ruling barring testimony about Monfort’s belief that he inspired gunman Maurice Clemmons, who fatally shot four Lakewood police officers in a Pierce County coffee shop a month after Brenton was killed.
Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird said the defense opened the door to veiled references to the Lakewood killings during cross-examination of a state witness, with Baird noting he never mentioned Clemmons by name or used the words “Lakewood” or “Washington” during his follow-up questioning.
Kessler said that even if the testimony was a violation of his pretrial ruling, “it was elicited by the defense” and was not unfairly prejudicial to Monfort.
Before recessing, Kessler told the attorneys that should jurors find Monfort guilty as charged, the penalty phase of the trial would begin soon after — and that they should start lining up their witnesses and making any travel arrangements now.
If there is a penalty phase, jurors will hear testimony before deciding if there are sufficient mitigating factors to warrant leniency — in this case, life in prison without the possibility of release. Jurors must vote unanimously in order to impose the death penalty.