UPDATE 10:30 a.m.:
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg this morning issued this statement in response to the state Supreme Court reinstating the death penalty in Christopher Monfort’s case:
“For the past 30 years, we have followed the same careful process in reviewing potential death penalty cases. We are pleased that the Washington State Supreme Court has upheld our exercise of discretion in this important case.”
The State Supreme Court this morning reinstated the death penalty in Christopher Monfort’s case.
Monfort is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Officer Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31, 2009.
In February, King County Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler ruled that Prosecutor Dan Satterberg abused his discretion by relying on a “flawed, practically useless” investigation into mitigating factors that could have merited leniency for Monfort. Leniency in the form of a life sentence instead of death. Kessler said Satterberg considered “minimalist mitigation materials” in reaching his decision to seek the death penalty.
Satterberg’s office appealed to the high court. Satterberg responded to Kessler’s ruling in a written statement, saying he delayed his decision and gave Monfort’s defense team nearly 10 months to submit his own mitigation package, even though state law requires that a prosecutor decide whether to seek the death penalty within 30 days of a defendant’s arraignment.
Under state law, mitigating factors in potential death-penalty cases can include evidence of an extreme mental disturbance or impairment because of a mental disease or defect.
In the beginning of this year Monfort’s defense team notified the court that it plans to pursue an insanity defense.
In their decision this morning, the state Supreme Court wrote that “the county prosecutor in this case properly exercised his discretion to file a death penalty notice. And we hold that the trial court improperly intruded upon that subjective determination when it held the prosecutor to a higher standard.”
Kessler’s ruling came down within weeks after another King County Superior Court judge tossed out the death penalty in another case due to the evidence Satterberg considered when deciding to pursue a capital case. That case, which involved a former couple accused of killing a family of six in the Carnation-area on Christmas Eve 2007, was also heard before the Supreme Court. In September, justices overruled the Superior Court judge and ordered the trials of Michele Anderson and her former boyfriend Joseph McEnroe to proceed.
Monfort is accused of shooting Brenton, 39, and Sweeney, an officer-trainee who is now 36, while they were seated in their parked patrol car in the Leschi neighborhood. Authorities say Monfort had intentionally targeted officers.
The shooting came nine days after Monfort reportedly 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 site 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 Monfort’s Tukwila apartment. When police later searched Monfort’s apartment, they found an arsenal of guns, explosives and a manifesto opposing police brutality, police said.
As a result of the shooting, Monfort is paralyzed from the waist down.
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.