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State High Court Weighs Prosecutors Call For Death Penalty in Monfort

Washington's Supreme Court justices will decide if King County prosecutors can seek the death penalty against Christopher Monfort.

Monfort is accused in the shooting death of Seattle Police Officer Tim Brenton on Halloween night four years ago. One other officer was wounded that night.The appeal is the result of an earlier King County Superior Court ruling that barred King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg from seeking the death penalty against Monfort.

In February, Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler took issue with whether the prosecution did a thorough job of considering possible mitigating factors in Brenton’s case. Mitigating circumstances are considered extremely important when deciding whether to file a capital case against a defendant.

In his ruling Kessler called the mitigation information gathered by the prosecution “flawed and minimalist.”

State Attorney Deborah Dwyer told justices the defense missed multiple deadlines to submit its  arguments. The prosecution, she said, conducted telephone and email interviews with two dozen of Montfort’s associates as part of its own mitigation investigation.

During the proceedings, the justices quizzed attorneys about what the law that deals with mitigating circumstances requires the prosecutor to do. Dwyer told the high court there’s nothing in state or case law that requires a prosecutor to conduct an independent investigation into mitigating circumstances.  “Your cases indicate that the prosecutor must consider the information that the prosecutor has and must be willing to accept any information that the defense provides," Dwyer said.

Monfort’s attorney, Suzanne Elliott, said the lower court’s ruling should stand. 

Elliot told the justices that Judge Kessler repeatedly informed the prosecution that the defense was working on a mitigation package. Elliot added that the prosecution now has 300 pages of mitigation evidence. She told the justices, “There is extreme mental distress in this case as well as delusional disorder and we've pled insanity."

Monfort is charged with aggravated murder, attempted murder and arson.