Video: Trial begins for Wash. cop killer, footage captures part of rampage

Sequence of events began Oct. 22, 2009, when Christopher Monfort is accused of firebombing police vehicles, followed by the killing of an officer on Oct. 31

By Sara Jean Green
The Seattle Times

SEATTLE — The 1991 beating of motorist Rodney King by Los Angeles police "had a profound effect" on Christopher Monfort, and became part of a delusion he acted on when he killed Seattle police Officer Tim Brenton on Halloween 2009, one of his defense attorneys told a King County jury on Tuesday.

While Monfort's defense is claiming he was insane when he killed Brenton and tried to kill other police officers, the prosecution contends Monfort deliberately stalked and targeted police solely because they wore a badge.

Opening statements were held Tuesday in the capital case against Monfort, who is charged with aggravated first-degree murder for Brenton's fatal shooting, as well as first-degree arson and three counts of attempted first-degree murder for trying to kill other officers.

Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Castleton spent about an hour detailing for jurors the sequence of events between Oct. 22, 2009, when Monfort is accused of firebombing police vehicles at a city maintenance yard, followed by Brenton's killing on Oct. 31, then Monfort's arrest after he was shot by detectives on Nov. 6.

Monfort, 46, has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to each of the five felonies. Brenton's position as a police officer is the aggravating factor that allowed the state to charge him with aggravated first-degree murder, the only crime for which death is a possible punishment.

After the state presents its case against Monfort, it will be up to the defense to try to convince jurors by a preponderance of the evidence that Monfort suffers from a mental disease or defect that prevented him from knowing his actions were wrong.

Not in dispute are the allegations against Monfort: That he set off powerful pipe bombs with the intent of killing first-responders at the maintenance yard; shot Brenton three times in the head with a high-powered rifle; and tried to shoot Seattle police Sgt. Gary Nelson just before his arrest outside his Tukwila apartment.

Monfort was angry about what he saw as an increasing number of police-brutality cases, both nationally and locally, and he set out to retaliate by targeting officers, Castleton said

At the city's Charles Street maintenance yard, Monfort set off pipe bombs, destroying police vehicles and leaving behind a warning, Castleton said. He told jurors an American flag attached to a large knife was jammed into the roof of a brand-new patrol car and a flier -- or manifesto -- was attached.

Castleton read the flier aloud to the jury. It referred to two King County sheriff's deputies who were accused of beating a teenage girl in a holding cell and it said officers needed to begin policing themselves, warning there would be more police funerals if they didn't.

When Castleton got to a section that mentioned the American flag — "our colors are the red, white and blue; our flag is the Stars and Stripes" — Monfort yelled out in court: "It's right there," pointing to the flag behind the judge's bench.

No one acknowledged the outburst.

Castleton said Monfort stalked and hunted Brenton, 39, and his partner, then-rookie Officer Britt Sweeney, first watching them from his car as they conducted a traffic stop along Martin Luther King Jr. Way and then following them to the corner of Yesler Way and 29th Avenue, where he pulled alongside their cruiser and opened fire.

Sweeney was able to duck the bullets that killed Brenton, then jumped from their patrol car to return fire at Monfort's fleeing vehicle.

On Nov 6, 2009, the day of Brenton's public memorial service, homicide detectives received a tip about a suspect car: a light-colored, 1980 Datsun 210. Castleton told jurors the tip came from Monfort's apartment manager, who reported her tenant owned such a car and had recently covered it.

Castleton said Monfort tried to shoot Sgt. Nelson outside his apartment complex, then made a run for his apartment while pointing a handgun at Nelson and two other Seattle officers. Each officer fired twice, and Monfort was struck in the face and back, he said.

The shooting left Monfort paralyzed from the waist down.

The rifle used to kill Brenton was later found in Monfort's apartment, along with numerous firearms, homemade bombs and grenades, Castleton said. He said the cache was "more ammunition than anyone would know what to do with," and included a knife identical to the one found at the Charles Street maintenance facility. A copy of the flier was found in Monfort's printer tray, and a large American flag was spread across his bed, he told jurors.

Castleton — who said Monfort left his DNA at both crime scenes — said the state will prove Monfort carefully researched and planned his crimes and committed them "with full knowledge and full intent."

"Anything else you hear will be rebutted," Castleton said, an apparent reference to the defense's insanity plea.

Defense attorney Todd Gruenhagan told jurors about Monfort's troubled childhood and his being bullied as a mixed-race youth in Indiana and Alaska.

While Gruenhagan said it's extraordinarily difficult to try to get inside someone's mind given our "primitive" understanding of the human brain, he told jurors Monfort is mentally ill, but it is a delusional, psychotic disease encapsulated around issues of police misconduct and abuse.

After Rodney King's beating in L.A., Gruenhagan said, his client became increasingly obsessed with instances of police brutality.

"It's happening right now in New York," Monfort called out during his lawyer's opening statement, an apparent reference to the choking death of a black man in Staten Island by New York police in July.

"Christopher Monfort's brain went a little haywire," Gruenhagan said. His delusion was such that he believed "he, like the founding fathers, would be the one to resist the tyranny and the brutality of the redcoats," British soldiers under King George III who oppressed American colonists.

For Monfort, killing Brenton and trying to kill other police officers "wasn't wrong — it was right. The Constitution demanded it," Gruenhagan said.

Copyright 2015 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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