Second, final day for key prosecution witness in Morgan Junction murder trial

February 28, 2014 at 9:10 pm | In Crime, West Seattle news | 10 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The first full week of testimony in the murder trial of Lovett “Cid” Chambers is over.

Before court adjourned Thursday afternoon, jurors spent a second day hearing from just one witness – Jonathan “Jamie” Vause, who was with Travis Hood the night of January 21, 2012, when Hood was shot and killed by Morgan Junction Park.

Vause’s second and final day on the stand was something of a followup to Wednesday, and even more contentiously so, as it began in the middle of his cross-examination by defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith, focused on inconsistencies in his story dating back to his first statement to police, given in the back of a squad car at Providence Mount St. Vincent, where he had driven Hood after the shooting, thinking it was a hospital.

The heart of what’s at issue in the case lies in the moments after Vause and Hood left the Feedback Lounge, where they and Chambers – not previously known to each other – had been drinking that evening. Chambers was a regular; Vause says he and Hood had never been there before. The shooting happened outside his pickup truck parked alongside the park, north of Beveridge Place Pub, which in turn is north of the Feedback.

“Isn’t it true you claimed Mr. Chambers was eyeballing you as you came out of the Feedback?” Goldsmith began by asking Vause, referring to his first statement to police. Vause said he would like to see himself saying that on the video recording of the statement, made by the in-car camera. The video was on standby, having been used previously – not played in its entirety, but rather a snippet here and a snippet there – so Goldsmith obliged. That wasn’t the last time of the morning that he returned to the question of who Vause said was standing where.

Also referring to the initial statement, Goldsmith went back to Vause’s contention of a huge difference between two words that have come up in the case – the slang “nigga,” which Vause testified he and Hood used for each other, and the racist slur “ni–er.” Though Vause vehemently insisted his use of the former had no racist intent nor racial implications, Goldsmith sought to get him to agree, “You would agree that some people think the word is the same thing.”

He also called attention to Vause having omitted in his police statement any mention of “nigga,” which he testified Wednesday was part of what he and Hood called each other outside the bar in the moments before the shooting.

Back to who was where as Vause and Hood left the bar, Goldsmith said Vause has told different stories. Vause said frequently during the course of cross-examination that he did not recall saying something, though that didn’t mean, he said, he was denying saying it. Written transcripts of interviews with detectives and lawyers were given to him as well as the occasional video-clip playback.

In another segment that was played for the jury, Vause was seen telling the officer in the car that when Hood “got close to the truck, I noticed he and the guy were having some words, and it didn’t seem dramatic.”

As the morning progressed, Vause became progressively more contentious, although sometimes with humor – when Goldsmith arrived at a discrepancy to point out, Vause would say, “OK, I’m ready, let’s go” and would laugh.

OTHER THURSDAY CROSS-EXAMINATION FOCUS POINTS

*Whose marijuana was in Vause’s truck? A baggie containing some, part of the case evidence, was displayed by Goldsmith. Vause acknowledged that Hood “might have given (him) a few bucks for a few of those grams” that he had purchased at the multi-vendor market in White Center the day of the shooting, and said he had to clean out his truck from time to time because up to “30 or 40 marijuana containers” would build up inside. The defense cited Vause having told SPD Homicide Detective Tim DeVore – who has been in the courtroom for most of the proceedings – that the marijuana found in the truck that night all belonged to Hood, because Vause kept all of his “on his person.” That led to sparring over whether Vause had said he smoked heavily that particular day, or whether he had said he was in general a heavy (marijuana) smoker. He said he doesn’t smoke to get high, and only feels that way “about 10 times a year,” but that he mostly smokes to “feel better.” Goldsmith pressed on with a quote that Vause had said at some point in the investigation that he only smokes medicinally, and Vause snapped back that he “can do whatever I want with it – if I want to party with it, I party with it – even (recreational use) is getting medical use out of it.”

*How much of Chambers’s gun did Vause see? “You told police it was a big gun,” said Goldsmith. Replied Vause, I said it was a .40 or .45 caliber – that is a big gun.” Asked about one interview in which he apparently had been very specific, identifying the gun as a 1911 .45, he said he “fell into a media swarm” from which those specifics might have come. He called himself “no gun scholar” but said that with modifications, that kind of gun would be “an excellent killing gun, apparently.” After that exchange, Goldsmith brought the topic back later in the morning. Vause said he didn’t remember when he saw the gun come out: “I don’t remember two years later, I smoke a lot of weed. It’s hard for me to remember.” The defense lawyer said Vause hadn’t blamed a memory gap on his marijuana use before. Vause then said, “I’d love to close this chapter in my life. Don’t hate me because I’m trying to close a lot of those memories … I’m trying to forget all the details … I wish I could go to sleep tonight and it would not be real … I’m not going to sit here and say ‘yes, yes, yes, yes’ and be your puppet, I’m going to answer truthfully, like it or lump it.” Goldsmith followed that with, “So all three are correct, you did see the gun, you didn’t see the gun, you don’t remember if you saw the gun?”

*What did Hood do and say while holding the shovel? Goldsmith again picked up State’s Exhibit Number One, the shovel that Hood had picked up from the bed of Vause’s truck, and held it up. “That thing you claim Travis said (then) – in fact, that’s what Mr. Hood said to Mr. Chambers, ‘I’m going to knock your ni–er head off.” “Uh, no,” Vause countered. “That’s not what he said.” Another exchange ensued about Vause’s definition of “nigga” vs. “ni–er.” Vause accused Goldsmith of again quoting him as saying the word ending in -er instead of the one ending in -a. “I know how I talk … I was talking to my homie, not your defendant, nor did we address (Chambers) as nigga or ni–er, ever.” This eventually grew so tense that Vause told Goldsmith, “I can’t even look at you,” and looked down, face resting in one hand, for a while. Points of contention went on, including what hand Hood had used to pick up the shovel; whether he was still holding it as he fell into the truck, wounded; and whether Hood had made eye contact with Chambers before or after the gunfire. “I saw that a–hole look me in the eye after he shot my friend,” said Vause. Goldsmith challenged, “But you told Detective DeVore he looked you in the eyes after he pulled the gun out.” Sighed Vause, “Sure, you don’t have to elaborate.” Moments later, they sparred again over how the knife wound up in the bed of the pickup truck, and that brought it around again to whose marijuana was in the truck, with Goldsmith accusing Vause of lying about that.

*Lies or omission? Noting that Vause had mentioned working as an informant, Goldsmith challenged him, “Part of being an informant is lying a lot, right?” Vause contended it’s not a matter of lying, it’s a matter of what you don’t say. Goldsmith pressed on: “So you never had to lie? In fact, you are lying now … your success as an informant depend(ed) on how good a liar you are.” Vause denied it, and then grew angrier than he had been on the stand, when Goldsmith declared he had video showing Vause using the word ni–er. Vause then warned that if Goldsmith was going to call him a racist, he was going to get up and walk out of the courtroom because that would be “crossing the line.” He said he didn’t care if he would get arrested for that, but he warned Goldsmith not to cross the line.

The tension was broken with Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle declaring that it was time for the noon break. The afternoon session began with a return to the subject of racism and potentially racist terms, and whether Vause and Hood felt they had to watch their language sometimes just because of how people might react. Vause said he was somewhat annoyed he couldn’t always just be himself. Goldsmith suggested he himself was confused about the difference between the two words starting with “ni.”

“Yeah, ’cause you’re a Yankee-sounding Western boy,” suggested Vause.

*Why would Hood and Chambers have gotten into the ultimately deadly confrontation? Vause offered that perhaps Hood thought Chambers was going to rob him. Goldsmith waxed skeptical – noting that Vause and Hood were out in Vause’s somewhat beat-up old pickup truck, while Chambers was driving a BMW. Vause was a renter, Chambers a homeowner. “I was renting three houses,” Vause interjected.

Goldsmith finished about 40 minutes into the afternoon session, with the prosecution facing Vause again for re-direct (after one side cross-examines the other side’s witness, the original side then gets the opportunity to question their witness about anything that has come up during cross-examination). Prosecutor Margaret Nave had Vause reiterate a few points about his field of view after he reached his truck with Hood and Chambers heading that way, which way Hood was facing, and what he thought was happening: “I felt we were being stalked,” Vause said.

Nave’s last question: “Did you see the defendant shoot your friend?”

The reply: “Yes, I did.”

After re-direct, there was brief re-cross with Goldsmith again honing in on Vause’s differing accounts of what he saw before the shooting.

He was released from the witness stand with almost an hour remaining in the day’s scheduled session, but the prosecution had no additional witnesses available – the Southwest Precinct police who were scheduled to be next were all at the Burien funeral of their former colleague Darin Chinn.

WHAT’S NEXT: The trial so far is running a little ahead of schedule, Judge Doyle told the jurors before sending them home; the prosecution had told her their case might be wrapped up by the end of next week, at which time it would be the defense’s turn. Court is scheduled to resume at 9 am Monday.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE AND BACKSTORY:

Trial report, Wednesday 2/26/2014 (Jamie Vause’s first day on the stand)
Trial report, Tuesday 2/25/2014 (DNA analysis, police)
Trial report, Monday 2/24/2014 (5 more witnesses)
Trial report, Thursday 2/20/14 (first witnesses)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/19/14 (opening statements)

****

Charge reduced to second-degree murder (August 9, 2013)
Charges filed against Chambers (January 25, 2012)
Coverage the night it happened and the morning after (January 21-22, 2012)

10 Comments

  1. Very well done. Thanks.

    Comment by Alan — 10:36 pm February 28, 2014 #

  2. Awesome coverage…..thank you.

    Comment by Ollie — 6:11 am March 1, 2014 #

  3. Good writing! This is really interesting and I hope you keep up the good work…

    Comment by Fritz — 6:25 am March 1, 2014 #

  4. Does anyone else wonder why Hood chose to brandish a shovel, instead of just getting into the truck to get away if he felt threatened? According to the testimony, he did that before he saw a gun.

    Comment by cruzer — 10:40 am March 1, 2014 #

  5. @cruzer – yes, there are a few aspects of this that are puzzling. While many seem to have clarity, I don’t see any “good guys” in this and am hoping that somehow a clearer picture emerges of what happened.

    Comment by Alan — 11:45 am March 1, 2014 #

  6. The coverage of this trial by the WSB has been excellent, and has really changed the way that I view this case.

    Comment by West Seattle Hipster — 3:34 pm March 1, 2014 #

  7. Just great coverage. Thank you.

    Comment by Kayzel — 6:39 pm March 1, 2014 #

  8. Yes, the response to questioning is superb. I wished it was on youtube so I could hear and see the responses. This is an odd/strange case. More of it to be seen..

    Comment by Dale — 11:50 pm March 1, 2014 #

  9. The initial reports mention a some what rare model handgun was used. While trivial to some every detail is critical. The model 1911 .45 is a fairly common handgun, if this was a Wilson Combat as mentioned it is a rare gun highly customized for accuracy and reliability with a high price tag $2500-$5000.
    Since the sighting of the firearm was a point of questioning would have been interesting had prosecution shown the gun as evidence to back up their witness if it was correct.

    Comment by Ace20604 — 7:07 pm March 2, 2014 #

  10. Ace – Interesting point. The evidence is shown at the front of the courtroom and the nearest a spectator, reporter or not, can sit is the second row – where I’ve been sitting most of the time. The shovel, when a lawyer picks it up, you can’t miss. Some of the other items can’t be seen from the gallery, and I have to say I’m not sure if the gun has or has not been among the items shown – magazines and shell casings have – if the gun has been shown, it has been in a low-key way. And if the maker was mentioned, I missed that. Looking up “1911 .45″ later before publishing the story, I noted that it was a fairly generic term. – TR

    Comment by WSB — 7:12 pm March 2, 2014 #

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