A King County Superior Court judge on Friday tossed out the death penalty in the case against accused cop-killer Christopher Monfort, but ruled the case could proceed as a capital case so as not to delay his trial.
Chief Criminal Judge Ronald Kessler ruled that King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg abused his discretion by conducting a “flawed and minimalist” investigation into mitigating factors that could have merited leniency for Monfort — a life sentence instead of death.
According to court records, the mitigation investigator hired by the prosecutor’s office conducted 25 interviews by phone and email with some of Monfort’s associates, including some with limited contact with him, before Satterberg decided to seek the death penalty. Satterberg made the decision to seek the death penalty before Monfort’s defense team could submit its own mitigation information, court records show.
“Here the defense has constantly maintained it’s preparing a mitigation package,” said Kessler. He told Monfort’s defense team to give the state the mitigation evidence they’ve gathered to date while continuing with their own investigation into mitigating circumstances. To read the ruling, click here.
Under state law, a prosecutor has 30 days following a defendant’s arraignment to decide whether to seek the death penalty. In Monfort’s case, Satterberg delayed his announcement for nearly 10 months, but has never received any mitigation evidence from the defense.
In a statement released later Friday, Satterberg’s office said, “We believe today’s decision is wrong and we will appeal it to the Washington State Supreme Court.”
“State law calls for the prosecutor to consider any evidence of mitigation prior to making a death penalty decision,” the statement read. “In this case, the defense refused to provide any information to the prosecution. The prosecution gave the defense team ten months to provide mitigation information, which is nine months longer than state law requires. In the absence of any information from the defense, the prosecution considered all available mitigating information and decided it was not sufficient to merit leniency.”
Monfort is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Officer Timothy Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Officer Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31, 2009.
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.
The shooting came nine days after police and prosecutors say 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, Monfort was shot by Seattle police detectives after he allegedly tried to shoot Seattle police Sgt. Gary Nelson during a confrontation outside his Tukwila apartment. When police later searched Monfort’s apartment, they found an arsenal of guns, explosives and a manifesto opposing police brutality, police said.
Monfort is also charged with arson and two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder — for allegedly pointing a gun at Nelson and for allegedly trying to kill officers at the scene of the firebombings.
Monfort’s lawyers have notified the court that they planned to pursue an insanity defense.
Late last month, Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors could not seek the death penalty against two people accused of killing a family of six in Carnation, finding Prosecutor Dan Satterberg erroneously considered the strength of the state’s evidence against defendants Joseph McEnroe and Michele Anderson in deciding whether to seek the death penalty. Ramsdell ruled that prosecutors should only have weighed whether mitigating circumstances existed in the decision to seek the death penalty.
Satterberg’s office is also appealing that ruling.