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February 5, 2013 at 11:51 AM
When did Christopher Monfort become insane?
I interviewed Christopher Monfort twice, tracked down his family near and far, spoke with classmates in Colorado and Seattle – and never once heard anyone suggest he was insane. Odd, yes. Smart. Ideological. But not insane.
But that’s now the suggestion, after more than three years of pre-trial proceedings in the capital murder case against Monfort, who is accused of murdering Seattle police officer Timothy Brenton Halloween night 2009.
I’m not privy to Monfort’s psychiatric records, but invoking a Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity defenses feels like a cynical stall tactic.
In two jail house interviews, I found him deliberate, thoughtful, and obsessively motivated by an extreme political ideology that justified his alleged attacks on police — a firebombing at an SPD maintenance yard intended to kill, then a methodical, cold-blooded assassination that killed Brenton and nearly killed SPD trainee Britt Sweeney. He name-checked Samuel Adams, Ralph Nader and Michael Foucault. He refused to answer my questions about whether he’d committed the attacks unless he was paid. He seemed as interested in me as I was in him, asking me as many questions as I would answer.
His defense has already cost at least $2.5 million; prosecutors report costs of at least $500,000. This new defense strategy has the potential to balloon costs.
What’s frustrating is that the insanity defense has a role in the criminal justice system because our mental health system is so broken, as I described this week. To be found not guilty by reason of insanity, a defendant has to be so ill at the time of the crime they didn’t know what they were doing.
But in this case, tossing it out there — after three years of pre-trial proceedings, after Monfort’s deliberate courtroom speeches and alleged plotting to kill police — helps chip away the public’s willingness to buy that defense. If I were a juror in the Monfort case, I’d view his insanity claim with extreme skepticism.