More than three months into Christopher Monfort’s murder trial, the defense is presenting evidence that he was insane when he fatally shot Seattle police Officer Tim Brenton in October 2009.
Though Christopher Monfort’s aggravated-murder trial began in January, the real battle to win over the jury started in April when the defense mounted its case to prove Monfort was insane when he allegedly ambushed two Seattle police officers, fatally shooting one of them, on Halloween night 2009.
For roughly 10 weeks, jurors heard testimony about an Oct. 22 arson,the Oct. 31 shooting death of Officer Timothy Brenton, and the ensuing investigation that led to Monfort’s arrest days later outside his Tukwila apartment, which was stockpiled with weapons and explosives.
During the arrest, Monfort was shot in the face and abdomen by a Seattle homicide sergeant and paralyzed below the waist.
At the outset of trial, the defense made clear the case is not a whodunit but declined to stipulate to any of the allegations against Monfort, holding the state to its burden to prove each element of the five felonies Monfort is charged with.
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Among those charges is aggravated first-degree murder for Brenton’s killing, the only crime for which the death penalty is a possible punishment.
In addition, Monfort is charged with firebombing police vehicles at the city’s Charles Street maintenance yard nine days before the shooting and attempting to kill other police officers, including Brenton’s then-rookie partner, Britt Kelley.
Monfort’s defense team is now trying to prove the 46-year-old is not guilty by reason of insanity — and the team is expected to offer at least another week of testimony aimed at showing Monfort suffers from a mental disease or defect that impairs his ability to know right from wrong.
Closing statements could be held as early as next week. If the jury finds Monfort not guilty by reason of insanity, the trial will end. But if they find him guilty of aggravated murder, the trial will then proceed to the penalty phase and jurors will be asked to decide if Monfort should be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of release, or to death.
Jurors must vote unanimously to impose the death penalty.
While the state attempted to poke holes in testimony provided by two defense experts, it was testimony from the defense’s star witness, Dr. Mark Cunningham, that was most vigorously challenged. A Boston psychiatrist retained by the state is expected to testify as a rebuttal witness.
Cunningham, a forensic psychologist from Texas, provided dense, complex testimony over more than eight days, showing the jury a 400-page Power Point presentation and frequently referring to binders of notes stacked on a book truck at the foot of the witness stand.
He spent more than 20 hours interviewing Monfort in the King County Jail beginning in 2011 and concluded Monfort suffered from a delusional disorder that made him believe killing police officers in order to stem police brutality was morally and constitutionally correct.
Cunningham’s testimony also provoked a number of disdainful outbursts from Monfort — which stopped after King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler suggested a video feed could be set up in another courtroom “and Mr. Monfort can talk to the television.”
Before Cunningham first took the stand on April 9, the defense called John De Haan, an independent consultant on fire-scene reconstructions. He testified about his review of the Charles Street incident, and said he agreed with many of the conclusions reached by Seattle arson investigators.
But Monfort — who is charged with arson and one count of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill police and firefighters responding to the fire scene — could have chosen better targets at the maintenance facility if his real intent had been to inflict mass carnage, De Haan testified.
“It was basically intended as property damage or a distraction more than anything else,” De Hann said of the fire and pipe bombs that destroyed a mobile police precinct and a handful of patrol cars.
On cross-examination, De Haan acknowledged he ignored fliers Monfort is alleged to have taped to buildings and car windows around the facility that included a reference to “these deaths” — which the state has argued shows his failed intent to kill first responders.
“I didn’t know what to make of it. I didn’t know which deaths those related to,” De Haan said of the fliers. “I did not find it relevant, that’s correct.”
The defense also called Randall Karstetter, a computer forensic expert who analyzed the contents of Monfort’s computers. He was tasked with looking for videos, Internet search histories and other files in a hunt for clues about Monfort’s mental state and apparent obsession with police brutality.
A desktop computer didn’t contain any relevant data, but Karstetter found 2,569 search terms containing the word “police” on Monfort’s laptop. Though a majority of them were duplicates, Karstetter said, between April and November 2009 Monfort conducted searches for police radio codes, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, and places where cops are known to eat, drink and socialize.
But on cross-examination, Karstetter said he didn’t consider a vast number of videos and files on the laptop about other topics, agreeing that less than 1 percent of Monfort’s activity was somehow related to the police.
Cunningham testified that Monfort isn’t a psychopath, but he is mentally ill — even though Monfort “does not regard himself as mentally ill.”
He diagnosed Monfort with a delusional disorder with persecutory and grandiose themes, explaining his delusions are encapsulated around the issue of police brutality.
Someone with the mental disorder “can be quite functional and don’t tend to show odd behavior except if it’s related to the theme of the delusion,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham also provided details not widely known about the case.
For instance, Monfort wanted to be a cop but didn’t apply because of a hiring freeze at the time. He purchased the alleged murder weapon, a .223-caliber Kel-Tec rifle, and took it to California in July 2009 with the intent of killing police there but aborted his plan.
Cunningham also testified Monfort wasn’t overly concerned about getting caught since his arrest would enable him to spread his message against police brutality.
Though it wasn’t explicitly stated to the jury, Cunningham said Monfort took credit for influencing a gunman who fatally shot four Lakewood police officers in a Pierce County coffee shop in November 2009, a month after Brenton was killed in his patrol car in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood.