Follow us:

The Today File

Your guide to the latest news from around the Northwest

January 20, 2015 at 9:49 AM

Defense attorney: Monfort’s brain ‘went a little haywire’


Christopher Monfort is seated in a wheelchair before the start of his death-penalty trial in King County Superior Court. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times )

Update at 2:35 p.m.: Veteran defense attorney Todd Gruenhagan told jurors about Monfort’s troubled childhood and his experiences being bullied as a mixed-race youth in Indiana and Alaska.

Monfort was living in Los Angeles in 1991 when LAPD officers beat Rodney King, which marked the beginning of his obsession with instances of police brutality against the citizenry, he said.

While Gruenhagan said it’s extraordinarily difficult to try to get inside someone’s mind given our “primitive” understanding of the human brain, he told jurors Monfort is mentally ill, but it is a delusional, psychotic disease encapsulated around issues of police misconduct and abuse.

Monfort, a student of history concerned with the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, saw himself in line with the founding fathers who revolted against the British “red coats” under King George III.

He said Monfort “viewed the red coats as synonymous” with modern police departments and believed if a few officers were killed, other officers would internalize the message, police themselves and refrain from brutalizing and killing citizens.

“Christopher Monfort’s brain went a little haywire,” Gruenhagan said. His delusion was such that he believed “he, like the founding fathers, would be the one to resist the tyranny and the brutality of the red coats.”

For Monfort, killing Brenton and trying to kill other police officers “wasn’t wrong — it was right. The Constitution demanded it.”

Update at 11:16 a.m.: It took about an hour on Tuesday morning for Senior Deputy Prosecutor John Castleton to walk a King County jury through the sequence of events that began with the Oct. 31, 2009, killing of Seattle police Officer Tim Brenton and ended with the shooting that paralyzed his accused killer, Christopher Monfort, a week later.

Monfort, who is also accused of firebombing police vehicles and trying to kill other Seattle cops during a two-week crime spree in fall 2009, is potentially facing the death penalty for allegedly ambushing and fatally shooting Brenton in the head with a high-powered assault rifle.

Monfort was angry about what he saw as an increasing number of police-brutality cases, both nationally and locally, Castleton said, and he set out to retaliate by targeting  officers.

On Oct. 22, 2009 — a national day of protest against police brutality — Monfort is accused of setting off powerful pipe bombs at the city’s Charles Street maintenance yard, destroying police vehicles and leaving behind a warning, Castleton said. He told jurors an American flag attached to a large knife was jammed into the roof of a brand new patrol car and a flier — or manifesto — was attached.

Castleton read the flier aloud to the jury and when he got to the part about the American flag — “our colors are the red, white and blue; our flag is the Stars and Stripes” — Monfort yelled out:

“It’s right there,” Monfort said, pointing to the flag behind the judge’s bench.

No one acknowledged the outburst.


Timothy Brenton

Castleton told the jury that police officers know their jobs are dangerous but noted Brenton and his partner, then-rookie Officer Britt Sweeney, weren’t responding to a volatile domestic-violence situation or engaging a robbery suspect in a gun battle.

“They were attacked for one reason only — because they wore the badge,” he said.

Neither officer was ever accused of police brutality, but “the defendant targeted Tim and Britt because they were police officers,” Castleton said.

On Nov 6, 2009, the day of Brenton’s public memorial service, homicide detectives received a tip about a suspect car: a light-colored, 1980 Datsun 210. Castleton told jurors the tip came from Monfort’s apartment manager, who reported her tenant owned such a car and had recently covered it.

Castleton said police found a receipt showing Monfort had purchased the gray car cover three days earlier.

When three Seattle police officers and a couple from Tukwila arrived at Monfort’s apartment complex, Castleton told jurors, Monfort tried to shoot Seattle police Sgt. Gary Nelson in the head but failed to chamber a round. When Monfort made a run for his apartment while pointing a Glock handgun at Nelson and the other Seattle officers, each of the three fired two quick shots. Monfort was struck in the face, just below his right ear, and in his back, with a bullet lodged against his spine, Castleton said. It was that bullet that paralyzed him, the jury heard.

The .223 Kel-Tec assault rifle used to kill Brenton was later found in Monfort’s Tukwila apartment, along with numerous firearms, homemade bombs and grenades, Castleton said. He said the cache was “more ammunition than anyone would know to do with,” and included a knife identical to the one found at the Charles Street maintenance facility. A copy of the flier was found in Monfort’s printer tray and a large American flag was spread across his bed, he told jurors.

Castleton said the state will prove Monfort carefully researched and planned his crimes and committed them “with full knowledge and full intent.”

“Anything else you hear will be rebutted,” Cadtleton said, an apparent reference to the defense’s insanity plea.

“The preparation, the research, the planning, the hunting — think about the choices he had to make for all of these things to occur,” he said.

The defense is to present its opening statement at 12:15 p.m.

Original post: Christopher Monfort targeted two Seattle police officers for assassination in 2009 “solely because they were police officers,” a prosecutor said Tuesday morning during the opening statements in Christopher Monfort’s trial.

Monfort is accused of fatally shooting veteran Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton and wounding his rookie partner during a two-week crime spree in 2009. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

Monfort has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, and the law requires the defense to prove he was insane by a preponderance of the evidence.

In addition to the charge in Brenton’s death, Monfort is also charged with attempted first-degree murder, accused of trying to kill then-rookie Officer Britt Sweeney as she and Brenton sat in their patrol car in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood on Halloween night 2009.

In addition, Monfort is accused of firebombing police vehicles at a city maintenance yard about a week before Brenton was killed, in apparent retaliation for alleged incidents of police brutality. He is charged with first-degree arson in the Oct. 22, 2009, explosions, as well as attempted first-degree murder for allegedly trying to kill officers responding to the firebombing scene, according to charging documents.

Monfort is charged with a third count of attempted first-degree murder for attempting to shoot Seattle Police Sgt. Gary Nelson on Nov. 6, 2009 — the day of Brenton’s memorial service — after a citizen’s tip about a suspect vehicle led police to Monfort’s apartment building in Tukwila.

Monfort confronted the officers but had not chambered a round in his handgun, and it did not fire when he pulled it and pointed it at Nelson.

After Nelson and two other officers saw Monfort run toward his apartment while pointing a gun at them, each officer fired two quick shots. Monfort was hit once in the face and once in the abdomen.

Because of Monfort’s health issues — he was paralyzed by one of the police bullets — his doctors have told the court he cannot sit in his wheelchair for longer than two hours at a time, interspersed by two-hour breaks.


Christopher Monfort is wheeled down the hallway in King County Superior Court after Tuesday morning’s session in his trial for murder of Officer Tim Brenton. (Steve Ringman / The Seattle Times)


Comments | More in The Blotter | Topics: Christopher Monfort, death penalty, King County Superior Court


No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.

The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.

The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►