The defense has begun its closing argument in Christopher Monfort’s trial in the 2009 fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton.
It’ll come down to the testimony from two mental-health experts — one hired by the defense, the other by the state — for jurors to decide whether Christopher Monfort was insane when he pipe-bombed police vehicles and later ambushed and fatally shot a Seattle police officer in October 2009, one of Monfort’s defense attorneys said Friday.
The seeds of Monfort’s mental illness were planted during a traumatic childhood before fully manifesting in adulthood as he became increasingly fixated on the issue of police brutality, attorney Carl Luer said during a second day of closing arguments in Monfort’s aggravated-murder trial for the Oct. 31, 2009, killing of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton.
On Wednesday, Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird harshly criticized the defense’s star witness, forensic psychologist Dr. Mark Cunningham, for ignoring or underplaying evidence that didn’t fit into his diagnosis that Monfort suffered and still suffers from delusional disorder.
Similarly, Luer on Friday criticized the state’s expert, psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Schouten, who determined Monfort holds extreme political beliefs but is sane. He said Schouten discounted evidence of Monfort’s preoccupation with police brutality and failed to probe his beliefs that modern police are terrorizing citizens in the same way Monfort believed British soldiers victimized colonists before the American Revolution.
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Monfort also felt a deep, personal connection to the country’s founding fathers and believed he had the moral and legal duty to protect his fellow citizens — as well as the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights — by killing random officers to bring about an end to police brutality.
“Members of the jury, that’s delusion, that’s insane,” Luer said, telling jurors it’ll be up to them to decide which expert’s diagnosis they think is more accurate.
Monfort, 46, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity in connection with Brenton’s death as well as three counts of attempted first-degree murder and first-degree arson.
If the jury finds Monfort not guilty by reason of insanity, they will have the option of recommending he be confined to a state mental institution.
If they find him guilty as charged, the trial will proceed to what is known as the “penalty phase,” after which jurors will decide if he should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release, or death. Aggravated murder is the only crime for which death is a possible penalty and jurors must vote unanimously to impose the death penalty.
“Why would a 41-year-old man (at the time of the shooting) with no criminal history, no history of violence … come to believe he had a duty to save American society?” Luer asked. “The short answer is, he went crazy, psychotic.”
Monfort — whom Luer repeatedly referred to as “Chris” — was so broken and delusional he believed he had “the inescapable duty to stop police brutality by himself,” thinking if he randomly killed enough police officers “it would fix the problem of police brutality by compelling this internal reform.”
He said the delusional disorder Monfort suffers from isn’t the kind of psychosis “where someone sits in the corner drooling” or starts “wearing tinfoil hats.” While delusional disorder is rare, it usually manifests in older individuals in their mid-30s or early 40s, and “that’s what happened to Chris,” Luer said.
The son of a white mother and a black father, Monfort was constantly bullied and beaten as the only black kid in the towns where he grew up. The long-term psychological effects of the isolation and racist abuse he suffered as a child and teen were profound, his attorney said.
Monfort was living in Los Angeles in 1991 when video of Rodney King being beaten by police officers sparked riots — and that’s when “the seeds of his delusional disorder,” centered on police brutality, “were planted,” Luer said.
After relocating to Seattle in his 30s, Monfort experienced his first academic success at Highline Community College, earning a 3.7 GPA and a scholarship to the University of Washington’s Law, Society and Justice program. That’s when his wide variety of interests began to narrow and “he became fixated on one — police brutality,” Luer said.
The incident that “pushed Chris over the edge” was a video made public in February 2009 that showed a King County sheriff’s deputy attack a 15-year-old, mixed-race girl in a jail holding cell, repeatedly punching her, slamming her head into a concrete wall and dragging her around by her hair, said Luer.
“It’s Rodney King all over again, except this time, it’s a 15-year-old girl,” Luer said of the incident that convinced Monfort “he had to act.”
Trial resumes Monday
Monfort wanted to kill officers when he firebombed police cars at the city’s Charles Street maintenance facility on Oct. 22, 2009, and when that failed, he took action nine days later.
“There’s really no dispute what happened that day,” Luer said. “Chris acted on his delusion and shot and killed a random police officer — and that police officer happened to be Timothy Brenton.”
He believed Brenton’s death — and the deaths of other officers — “were necessary to stop police brutality,” Luer said.
On Nov. 6, 2009, Monfort was shot by three members of the Seattle Police Department’s homicide unit after trying to shoot one of them in the head outside his Tukwila apartment. His apartment was stockpiled with weapons and explosives.
“Chris believed he was at war with police brutality and (police) found evidence of that in his apartment,” Luer said. “There’s no question Chris viewed himself as a soldier in his final battle.”
On Monday, the state will have an opportunity to offer a rebuttal argument and the defense will then get 10 minutes to respond, but only on the issue of insanity.
The jury will then begin its deliberations.