Following a break, testimony in two death-penalty trials being heard in King County Superior Court in Seattle will resume Monday.
In an unusual bit of timing, Christopher Monfort, suspected of killing Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton in 2009, and Joseph McEnroe, charged with killing six members of his then-girlfriend’s family in Carnation in 2007, are being tried at the same time. Both men are facing the death penalty if convicted.
Opening statements in both trials were heard on Tuesday.
Jurors began hearing witness testimony Wednesday in the trial of Monfort, who is claiming he was insane when he allegedly firebombed police vehicles, stalked and fatally shot Brenton and then tried to shoot another Seattle cop investigating Brenton’s death during a two-week spree in fall 2009.
Following opening statements on Tuesday, King County Senior Deputy Prosecutors Jeff Baird and John Castleton began questioning witnesses about Monfort’s first alleged crimes: The Oct. 22, 2009, arson at the city’s Charles Street maintenance facility, where a Seattle Police Department mobile-command center — basically, a modified RV — burst into flames before powerful pipe bombs that had been placed underneath patrol cars exploded as officers and firefighters arrived at the scene.
Three Seattle Department of Transportation (DOT) employees and the first Seattle police officers to respond to a worker’s 911 call took the witness stand this week. Testimony about the fire and explosions will continue next week and could last into the first week of February as prosecutors build their case against Monfort, now 46.
Brenton’s widow, Lisa, and other family members have been in court to observe the proceedings.
So far, jurors have heard the 911 call summoning police to the facility.
Mike Rongren, a Seattle DOT worker at the Charles Street maintenance facility, was the first to testify in Monfort’s trial, which is expected to stretch into summer. Rongren told jurors that as he drove into the maintenance yard between 4:30 and 4:45 a.m. on Oct. 22, 2009, he noticed the silhouette of a person hiding between parked vehicles and called his supervisor.
After circling the yard in his truck, Rongren parked and walked down a large parking lot. He spotted someone and came within about 15 feet of the person, whom he thought was a man, based on his physical size. Rongren said he pretended he didn’t see him and kept walking.
“He kind of froze,” Rongren said. “It seemed a little off, a little different,” he said.
He told jurors that transients sometimes come into the yard, but they don’t typically try to hide and usually leave when asked.
“Shortly after that, that police motor home burst into flames … It was sudden,” he testified. This was followed by the sound of a “slight boom.” Rongren then called 911.
He briefly lost sight of the man he’d seen and deliberately kept his distance from, but then saw the man — dressed in dark clothing with some kind of cylinder sticking out of his backpack — running east on Charles Street toward Ninth Avenue, then north on Ninth toward Dearborn Street.
“After he rounded the corner on Ninth was the last I saw him … I saw the first police car pull up at Seventh and Charles. I was by the propane tank, waving my arms, trying to flag him down,” said Rongren.
Soon after, Rongren said two patrol cars in the vehicle-maintenance shop caught fire. By then, Seattle firefighters were also on scene.
Rongren said he and his supervisor noticed that a large knife with an American flag attached to it had been jammed into the roof of a new patrol car, and a note about police brutality taped to the window.
When testimony in McEnroe’s trial resumes Monday, jurors will hear from police and first-responders who went to the home where six members of a family were fatally shot on Christmas Eve 2007.
Paramedics who confirmed the deaths of the six victims, a King County sheriff’s detective who processed evidence inside the house, and a sheriff’s detective who searched the area around the house for possible suspects are expected to testify, said King County Senior Deputy Prosecutor Scott O’Toole.
King County Medical Examiner Richard Harruff, who examined the victims, and sheriff’s Detective Jake Pavolich, who interviewed McEnroe at length, are not expected to take the stand until the week of Feb. 15, O’Toole said.
During his opening statement on Tuesday, O’Toole said that McEnroe repeatedly told Pavolich that he didn’t have any role in the slayings and that he and his then-girlfriend, Michele Anderson, were on their way to Las Vegas to get married when they were confronted by deputies near the murder scene on Dec. 27, 2007.
It was only after Pavolich told McEnroe that Michele Anderson confessed to the killings that McEnroe told him what he did, O’Toole said.
McEnroe and Michele Anderson are each charged with six counts of aggravated first-degree murder in the shooting deaths of Anderson’s parents, brother, sister-in-law, 5-year-old niece and 3-year-old nephew at the parents’ home near Carnation.
Anderson, 36, will be tried after McEnroe.
Defense attorney Leo Hamaji said during his opening statement that McEnroe couldn’t escape Michele Anderson’s delusions. Those delusions, Hamaji said, led her to believe “it was either the Andersons or Michele and Joe.”
He claims Anderson coerced McEnroe into participating in the slayings.
McEnroe’s trial is expected to last into May.