Closing arguments are under way in the aggravated murder trial of Christopher Monfort, who is accused of gunning down Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton in 2009.
A King County prosecutor blasted Christopher Monfort’s defense team and its star witness Wednesday, saying they all failed to present any evidence that Monfort was mentally ill and delusional when he gunned down Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton and tried to kill other cops in fall 2009.
Monfort is a violent extremist who is “not normal,” but that doesn’t make him insane, said Senior Deputy Prosecutor Jeff Baird on the first day of closing arguments in Monfort’s aggravated-murder trial.
Monfort, who has been on trial since January, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to five felonies, including aggravated first-degree murder for the Oct. 31, 2009, fatal shooting of Brenton. He is also accused of starting a fire and setting off pipe bombs that destroyed a handful of police vehicles at the city’s Charles Street maintenance yard and of trying to kill other officers, including Brenton’s then-rookie partner.
Baird questioned why Monfort’s defense team pursued an insanity defense but then told jurors: “They had no choice. There is no other defense in this case.”
Monfort “attempted to wrap his crimes in the flag of the United States of America,” Baird said, referencing defense arguments that Monfort believed killing police officers to stem police brutality was constitutionally correct.
“The defense is Mr. Monfort’s hatred of the police — and it was hatred — was so extreme … he shouldn’t be held responsible for killing one,” Baird said.
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He said the prosecution has provided ample evidence Monfort was cold, careful and calculated in his plans to kill police officers — and succeeded in killing Brenton and almost killing his partner, Britt Kelly (nee Sweeney), in an ambush in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood.
Monfort also pointed a gun at the head of a homicide sergeant investigating Brenton’s death and pulled the trigger, but the weapon failed to fire because a round hadn’t been chambered, Baird told the jury.
“The question isn’t if Mr. Monfort is normal. He’s not normal … Anyone who commits premeditated murder is not normal,” Baird said.
Monfort kept his plans secret, even from friends he had hoped to recruit into a small army against the police, Baird said. Once he concluded those friends did not share his beliefs, he “resolved to be an army of one,” the prosecutor said.
Baird reserved his harshest criticism for Dr. Mark Cunningham, a forensic psychologist from Texas who was the only mental-health expert hired by the defense to conclude Monfort suffers from a delusional disorder.
While the state’s mental-health expert, psychiatrist Dr. Ronald Schouten, treats patients, teaches at a university, consults with government agencies and private corporations and is considered an expert on terrorism and extremist violence, Baird said Cunningham is “a professional witness” who has testified more than 200 times in capital cases, but only on behalf of the defense.
“He’s done it so many times it comes easy to him. You wind him up and off he goes,” Baird said of Cunningham. “He’s not an expert on delusional disorder, he’s certainly not an expert on extremist violence, but he is an expert on testifying.”
Cunningham — who spent far longer on the stand than any other witness — gave long -winded, evasive answers, constantly repeated himself and ignored or downplayed any evidence that didn’t fit into his diagnosis, Baird said.
For instance, in the hours before Brenton was killed on Halloween night 2009, Monfort was described by one friend as being “jovial,” while another said Monfort acted the same as he always did, Baird said. Monfort’s uncle, who phoned Monfort before the shooting, also said there was nothing remarkable about their conversation other than it was shorter than usual.
“So when that night did Mr. Monfort actually become delusional?” Baird asked. “If he was delusional, he was very selectively delusional.”
Later, despite knowing there was a good chance he would be arrested, Monfort exhibited no signs of delusion when he was confronted by a group of police outside his apartment on Nov. 6, 2009, Baird said.
“You would think under those circumstances, if that delusion would manifest itself, now would be the time,” he said. Monfort “would be out of his mind” and the defense “would’ve elicited any and all testimony of derangement,” Baird said,
But Monfort’s defense team “did nothing of the kind,” and, instead, tried to convince the jury the police officers who responded to Monfort’s apartment were lying about the circumstances of his arrest, Baird said. “There wasn’t the slightest bit of evidence Mr. Monfort was delusional at that time,” he said.
After Monfort attempted to shoot Sgt. Gary Nelson in the head, Nelson and two other members of SPD’s homicide unit fired at Monfort, who was shot twice and paralyzed below the waist.
Closing arguments were canceled Thursday because the trial judge, Ronald Kessler was ill. The arguments are expected to resume Friday.
From the trial’s start, the defense made it 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.
Among those charges is aggravated first-degree murder for Brenton’s killing, the only crime for which the death penalty is a possible punishment.
Monfort’s defense team has tried to prove the 46-year-old is not guilty by reason of insanity, claiming Monfort suffers from a mental disease or defect that impairs his ability to know right from wrong.
If the jury finds Monfort not guilty by reason of insanity, the trial will end.
But if the jury finds 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.