SEATTLE – Paralyzed by a detective's bullet, a man accused of killing a Seattle police officer on Halloween was wheeled into a courtroom on Monday and pleaded not guilty to charges that could bring the death penalty.
Christopher Monfort, 41, was handcuffed and shackled despite his condition, and a lawyer entered the pleas on his behalf as Officer Timothy Brenton's widow and fellow officers looked on. Monfort's defense team surrounded him, sometimes holding a clipboard in front of his face to obscure the view of him from the packed courtroom.
Deputy prosecutor John Castleton summarized most of the five charges against Monfort, but read one verbatim: that of aggravated first-degree murder. Investigators said he drove alongside Brenton's cruiser as it was parked after a traffic stop in Seattle's Leschi neighborhood and opened fire, killing Brenton instantly and grazing the neck of his partner, Brit Sweeney.
Monfort is also charged with arson and attempted murder for the firebombing of several police vehicles in a maintenance yard on Oct. 22 — the first step in what prosecutors called Monfort's "one-man war" against Seattle police.
Detectives located the suspect at his Tukwila apartment Nov. 6 after the complex's manager called police with a tip that Monfort owned a vehicle similar to the one investigators were looking for, an early '80s Datsun. When they approached him, detectives said, he ran, aimed a handgun and pulled the trigger — to no avail, because he had neglected to load a bullet into the chamber.
Police opened fire, paralyzing him from the waist down. Inside his apartment, they found evidence he was preparing for a last stand: several guns and homemade bombs, one with a fuse placed on the heating element of his kitchen stove, and stacks of automobile tires that could provide shelter from a hail of police bullets.
Ballistics evidence proved one of the guns was used to kill Brenton, and Monfort's DNA was found on one small American flag and an American flag-style bandanna left at the site of the arson and on the ground near Brenton's cruiser.
Monfort was released from Harborview Medical Center last week. He appeared in King County Superior Court in a wheelchair.
After the arraignment, Brenton's widow, Lisa, told reporters that she had felt helpless, afraid and confused since the shooting and had planned to avoid media at Monday's arraignment. But after visiting the memorial to the four Lakewood police officers killed Nov. 29, she was overwhelmed with a sense of strength and support.
"From the family of the one to the families of the four, these deaths are not going to be tolerated," she said, breaking down in tears.
Sweeney did not speak after the arraignment.
Monfort's mother, Suzan Monfort, told reporters afterward that the killing was a tragedy for both sides.
King County prosecutor Dan Satterberg has 30 days from Monfort's arraignment to decide whether to seek the death penalty, but such decisions are typically delayed to give defense attorneys more time to prepare.
No clear motive has emerged, but Satterberg has said that Monfort left fliers at the arson discussing police brutality.