By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The wheels of justice seem to rotate excruciatingly slowly as a case moves toward resolution – via trial, via plea bargain, via something else. A status hearing is rescheduled, then rescheduled again, then rescheduled again.
If and when a case gets to the courtroom, you would imagine, it’s full speed ahead.
For one, there is the pace of testimony. Most witnesses are not the dramatic bombshell-droppers of TV, movies, theater. They are brought in to provide a few details that might (or might not) prove later to be key
There’s the matter of logistics.
On Thursday, the first day of witness testimony in the murder trial of Lovett “Cid” Chambers began an hour later than planned.
The first scheduled witness for the prosecution, it seemed, had overslept.
Dominoes then fell, as the second scheduled witness had been told to show up around 10, the third witness around 10:30, so neither had arrived. Calls were made. A cab was even sent to fetch one witness.
The fourth scheduled witness was on videotape – but that couldn’t be moved to the head of the line because of an ongoing discussion over what could be heard on the tape besides the witness – a discussion requiring further review and a decision from Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle before the video could be played for jurors.
Eventually, it all worked out, and the first witness to arrive took the stand at about 10:10.
(If you need the backstory of the January 21, 2012, shooting, see our previous report, focusing on both sides’ opening statements summarizing their cases.)
All three witnesses were bartending at the Feedback Lounge the night of the shooting, a night with patrons including both Chambers, then 67, and the man he shot, 35-year-old (Michael) Travis Hood, though they are not said to have encountered each other until leaving the bar, Chambers alone, Hood with his friend Jamie Vause.
All three said they knew Lovett Chambers as “Cid,” a regular patron.
All three were asked questions meant to set the scene of what was happening inside the bar that night, even what kind of place it is.
The first to testify on Thursday was Allison Hill.
She no longer works at the Feedback but said she had been there since before it opened (in 2009) described it vividly and vibrantly, a “rock memorabilia bar” with “very classy cocktails … Prohibition-style … (they) know how to stir a martini instead of shake it … snooty cocktails and snooty food without snooty people or snooty prices … clientele ages 23 to 73.”
She was asked to draw the layout of the Feedback on a piece of butcher paper attached to an easel.
“Was Lovett Chambers in the bar [on January 21, 2012]?” asked deputy prosecuting attorney Mari Isaacson.
“I knew him as Cid,” replied Hill. “Yes, he was.”
She was asked to make an X to show where he sat – his favorite spot, at the end of the bar.
Isaacson led her through questions about Chambers’ habits and preferences – a vodka martini that had to be in a specific glass, lights dimmed just so, temperature and music volume at certain levels; Hill said he even could be “irritable about the wireless-router light” if it came into his field of view. And she indicated he was the kind of client you never left waiting for long, for service – “one of those people you know to go directly to.”
That night, she said, she was talking with another patron about the Feedback’s unique cocktails when a police officer came in and asked to talk with her: “I knew something was going on.”
But that, Hill said, was the first inclination she had that something was up. She had not seen or heard anything out of the ordinary. And she did not recall seeing “two men from the South” there that night.
After a break, prosecutors’ next witness took the stand: The Feedback’s current general manager Gia Griffitts, also working on January 21, 2012, which started out as a “normal Saturday night.”
Griffitts said she did not serve Chambers that night, but knew him as “a regular, a good customer.” She also mentioned his quirks, such as how he “always wanted us to turn the lights lower.” (On cross-examination, she said the bar had “a lot of regulars who like to sit in specific seats.”)
Like Hill, she had no memory of “two guys from the South” being in the bar that night.
What she did remember:
She was outside smoking around 11:25 and thought she heard gunfire.
Her suspicion was verified by “police presence in the bar” shortly thereafter.
“At some point in time, I understood who it was, who they were looking for – Cid.”
The third witness, Leslie Johnston, was also tending bar the night of the shooting, but now lives and works out of state. She said she had served Chambers his last drink of the night.
She recalled him objecting to the glass in which he had been served a drink earlier, with “raised” voice … “it was obvious he was frustrated.” So, she said, she poured it into a different glass, joked that she would throw the other one on the floor and break it, and “he laughed it off. … It was obvious he had had a few drinks, (but) he wasn’t slurring his speech or physically out of control.” She also mentioned his preferences for seating and lighting, with an explanation for the latter – “he said he’d been working on his computer all day and his eyes hurt.”
The only other point that emerged was the matter of his car, a blue BMW, which apparently was a topic of discussion more than once: “He loved his car – he was very proud of it.”
On cross-examination, defense lawyer Lauren McLane elicited from Johnston the description that Chambers was “a mellow guy, well-liked” and usually “friendly with others in the bar.”
Then came the continued review of the videotaped testimony of Brian Knight, which already had been edited to address defense concerns that jurors would hear the sound of the shackles worn by Chambers, which he would not be wearing in their presence – he is brought into the courtroom in handcuffs and wearing street clothes, and is uncuffed before jurors enter the courtroom; armed deputies are present for security.
Ultimately Judge Doyle pointed out that the defendant is not seen on the video, nor is there a description of who is present off-camera, him and/or anyone else, “there’s no likelihood a juror will hear (the sound) and conclude it is chains, or chains around Mr. Chambers – it all sounded to be more like background noise, paper shuffling.”
So the big-screen video monitor was maneuvered back into position facing the jury box, and Knight’s testimony was played for them. (They also were given transcripts to follow along, but sternly warned that the transcript itself was not the evidence, only what they heard the witness say.)
At the time, he said, he was a shipfitter at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, living in Gig Harbor, visiting West Seattle to see friends. They went to Beveridge Place Pub (just north of the Feedback and south of the shooting scene alongside Morgan Junction Park) that night. While there, he went outside to smoke, during which time he saw “someone shoot somebody.”
Backing up on what preceded that, he said he heard a commotion and voices but “couldn’t make out what was said,” and he noticed something happening with a red Ford Ranger pickup parked on that side of California, its passenger-side door open. “I watched a bunch of shots get fired.”
How did you know they were gunshots? he was asked. Knight replied that he has experience with guns.
How many shots? Four, he thought. A few minutes later, he said, the person who fired them walked right by him. And then, he remembered the red pickup truck leaving, headed north on California; shortly thereafter, the blue BMW headed that way too.
Going to where he had just seen the shooting, Knight said, he saw bullet casings and blood. He said he didn’t touch anything. About 10 minutes later, police arrived. He said they didn’t initially seem interested in what he had to say, so he went back into the bar, where they came back to find him there.
Under crossexamination, he was taken back through details of what he said he saw, especially his report of seeing Chambers walk right by, and specifics of how much he had seen – he said his view was only of the truck’s front fender and door; the rest was blocked.
“He was pretty calm?” asked McLane.
“For someone who shot somebody, yes.”
At 4:15, the jury was dismissed for the weekend; trials are generally in recess on Fridays, while judges in the criminal court handle sentencings and other self-contained hearings. We don’t know who the prosecution will call when court resumes at 9 am Monday but their trial brief features a general list of potential witnesses, including 30 Seattle Police officers, detectives, and sergeants, plus King County Medical Examiner’s Office personnel, and about 10 other people, including Jamie Vause, the victim’s friend, who was with him when it happened.