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Updated Tuesday, February 5, 2013 at 01:20 PM

Monfort to use insanity plea in SPD officer’s killing

By Jennifer Sullivan
Seattle Times staff reporter

Lawyers representing the man accused of killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton and wounding a second officer on Halloween night 2009 plan to pursue an insanity defense.

Christopher Monfort’s lawyers have notified King County Superior Court that he will plead not guilty by reason of insanity. Monfort is facing the death penalty if he’s convicted of the ambush slaying of Brenton.

“With respect to the charges, Mr. Monfort, due to a mental disease or defect, was unable to determine right from wrong (at the time of the shooting),” Carl Luer, one of Monfort’s defense lawyers, said in an interview Monday. “We need to look into every possible defense. This is one that is accurate with the facts of the case.”

The King County Prosecutor’s Office declined Monday to comment on the Monfort case.

Monfort is scheduled to be tried later this year. However, it wasn’t immediately clear whether the insanity plea will delay his trial.

Luer said that the insanity defense will allow prosecutors to have Monfort undergo a mental examination, either by staff at Western State Hospital or by other mental-health evaluators, a process that could cause a delay and add to the cost of the case.

According to the Office of Public Defense, as of the end of last year the county had spent more than $2.5 million paying for Monfort’s defense. The King County Prosecutor’s Office said Monday that they have spent close to $500,000 prosecuting the case.

More than two years ago, Monfort’s defense team told prosecutors that he would plead guilty if the death penalty was taken off the table. However, it hasn’t been discussed since then because there appeared to be no interest by the prosecution, Luer said.

“If they (the prosecution) were to reconsider it’s something we would seriously look at,” Luer said.

However, Luer stopped short of saying Monfort killed Brenton.

Monfort is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31, 2009.

Since his arrest, Monfort’s physical and mental health deteriorated, Luer said. He was shot by police when he was arrested and now uses a wheelchair.

Because of his medical condition, and because he’s an “ultra-security inmate,” Monfort is housed in isolation at the King County Jail. As a result, the jail has allowed Monfort to have a television in his cell.

“He’s doing better in a number of ways. There was a stretch where he was physically ill, as well as mentally ill. He has a lot of problems but he’s in better shape than he was in the fall,” Luer said.

However, during numerous court hearings Monfort’s mental condition has not been widely discussed. In multiple court hearings since his arrest, Monfort has launched into tirades about the criminal-justice system and police.

Though Monfort’s courtroom behavior has been unpredictable, Luer said that the insanity defense only has to do with his mental state on the day of the shooting.

“Insanity refers to someone’s mental state at the time of the offense,” Luer said.

Criminal defendants found not guilty of a crime by reason of insanity are sent to a state mental hospital for treatment. While they can petition the courts for release if their mental health improves, the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) can also have them incarcerated in a state prison.

If a patient who has been found not guilty by reason of insanity is determined to be “an unacceptable safety risk,” the DSHS can ask the Department of Corrections to board them while they are under the review of state mental-health experts, said DSHS spokesman Thomas Shapley.

Brenton, 39, and Sweeney, an officer-trainee who is now 36, were in their parked patrol car in the Leschi neighborhood when Monfort pulled up alongside and opened fire, according to police. Authorities say Monfort had intentionally targeted officers.

According to prosecutors, the shooting came nine days after Monfort firebombed four police vehicles at a city maintenance yard. Police said one of the makeshift bombs was set to go off as police and firefighters arrived to investigate the initial blasts.

A note left behind at the arson railed against police brutality, police said.

On Nov. 6, 2009, the day of Brenton’s memorial service, detectives went to a Tukwila apartment complex after a tipster reported seeing the gunman’s car in the parking lot.

Monfort pulled out a handgun and pointed it at police, but the weapon misfired, according to prosecutors. Monfort was shot in the face and abdomen when he tried to flee, they said. He was left paralyzed from the waist down. His right eye is half-closed, possibly from the bullet wound to his face.

Monfort is also charged with the firebombing and two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder — for pointing a gun at police before he was shot and another count for allegedly trying to kill officers at the scene of the firebombings.

Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com.


Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times, file photo
Christopher Monfort’s lawyers plan to pursue an insanity defense in his trial for killing one Seattle police officer and wounding another.





Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton




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