Morgan Junction murder trial: Car controversy continues; Chambers shown on video

March 8, 2014 at 2:21 am | In Crime, West Seattle news | 20 Comments

By Tracy Record & Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

For the first time in the two weeks a King County Superior Court jury has spent hearing the case in the second-degree-murder trial of Lovett “Cid” Chambers, they have heard his voice.

As is standard in a criminal trial, the defendant is in the courtroom for all on-the-record proceedings, so the 15 jurors (including three alternates) have seen Chambers (at right, WSB courthouse-hallway photo from Wednesday) day in and day out. But he has not been on the witness stand. Thursday afternoon, before the trial went into recess until Monday (March 10th), prosecutors played parts of the video recording made during the hours he spent in a Seattle Police interview room – sometimes alone, sometimes with SPD personnel – after the January 21, 2012, shooting by Morgan Junction Park that left 35-year-old Travis Hood dead.

The video playback came while Detective Cloyd Steiger was on the witness stand. It happened in two somewhat lengthy stretches – the first was mostly quiet, in which Chambers appeared to be resting on a chair in the corner. (The jury watched on the wide-screen monitor used to show evidence; the defense, and gallery, were in view of a laptop screen from which the video was being played back.)

The clip was started with a time stamp just past 12:20. A table and red chair were visible; two people came into view. One was Chambers; the other asked him how much he had had to drink that night, and he did not answer. The video was basically quiet for a long time; what sounded like throat-clearing was heard off-screen.

Prosecutor Mari Isaacson questioned Det. Steiger about who had been seen on screen; he said another detective and a patrol officer – he himself had not seen Chambers yet by then, he was still interviewing Chambers’s wife.

The video was advanced to 1:54 am and played for about 10 minutes, with nothing much visible or audible on the screen we were viewing – there were some nonverbal sounds, including a few pounding or slamming-type noises. After pausing the video at 2:05 am, Isaacson said it seemed as if Chambers had awakened and was “knocking.” Steiger said he wasn’t aware of that.

She forwarded to 3:03 am. Shortly after that, SPD personnel arrived: “Cid, stand up for a second,” one said. “We’re going to Harborview.”

“For what?”

“We’re going to draw your blood. … How are you feeling?”

“I feel all right,” Chambers was heard to say. “How about you?”

Someone out of view of the camera was heard directing him out of the door, and then shortly afterward, they were out of earshot. Pausing the video, Isaacson resumed questioning Steiger, who said he was with Chambers and Det. Jason Kasner, headed to Harborview in an unmarked car. Detective cars, including his, did not have video-recording systems, he confirmed. After drawing blood from Chambers, he testified, “then we were going to book him into jail.”

He said Chambers was in “soft restraints – leather with sheepskin inside” when the blood was taken, in police presence, by a Harborview nurse. As they then left the hospital with him, Det. Steiger was asked, what was Chambers’s demeanor?

“He seemed more alert, seemed he had sobered up considerably, started saying things about not remembering what happened, as we were walking down the ramp …” As they arrived at the downtown jail, the detective said, Chambers was “alert, not uncooperative.” It was in the jail’s “sally port” – secure entrance – that Steiger recalled Chambers saying he wanted to see a picture of Hood.

“Did you make any gesture to get him to talk to you, any sort of threat, did Det. Kasner?” asked Isaacson.

“No.”

“Did it appear he wanted to talk to you?”

“Yes.”

At the afternoon break, defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith raised a concern about what Steiger might say if the line of questioning continued, possibly in violation of a pretrial ruling about what could be brought in and what couldn’t. The discussion included disagreement over what’s hearsay and what’s not.

When court resumed for the final segment of the day, part of the video-recorded interview with Chambers, after he was brought back to the interview room at police headquarters, was played. The judge told the jury that some of the recording had been edited “for legal reasons” and warned them not to “draw any inferences” regarding any edit they might notice.

The video picked up after 4 am. Chambers was heard swearing to himself twice before a detective returned and asked him about his wrist, whether he wanted a snack or some water. He said he’d like the latter, and then went out of the room for a bathroom break. When he returned, two detectives began questioning him, starting with his name, his birthdate, his home address. One detective read him his Miranda rights, somewhat quickly. They ask where he had gone that night – to the Feedback, he answered (subsequently mispronounced by the police as “Feedbag”) – and what he was drinking (“martinis”).

That’s when Chambers interrupted the line of questioning to say, “What the f— happened?”

Police: “Well, that’s what we’re trying to find out.” They established that he remembered being at the bar, and that he kept his .45-caliber pistol in his car, and that it was not on his person when he was in the bar. “So at some point you went to your car and got your gun?”

“No,” Chambers replied.

“Then how did your gun get from the car, to you?”

“I left the bar to go home …”

He repeated that he was getting into his car, parked on California, “right in front of the Beveridge Place (Pub).”

They asked what kind of gun – Colt .45 – where he kept it in the car – usually the glove compartment or under the passenger seat – and around that point, Chambers said again, “I don’t remember anything.”

They talked to him about having been there with a friend named Pierre, whose call led Chambers to reconsider leaving the Feedback. After Pierre arrived, he said, “I was talking to my friends Drew and Pierre … we’re sitting there just bullsh***ing … Pierre said, ‘I’ll buy you a drink … I finished the drink …”

Police: “Then what happened?”

Chambers: “I don’t f***ing know!”

“Have you ever blacked out before?”

“No.”

“You think you have a drinking problem?”

“No.”

“I’m just trying to figure out how you could not know what happened.”

“I can’t figure out what happened.”

“Tell us what you do remember.”

He said he recalled someone saying they’d see him there the next day for a charity-benefit auction, and then he walked out to his car.

Police: “Then what hapepned?”

Chambers: “I’m telling you, I don’t f***ing know. … I don’t know what else happened inbetween there.”

“You just blacked out?”

By that point he was close to shouting. He said he did remember getting into his car.

“Any trouble when you were getting into your car?”

“I don’t know, I really don’t know, and that’s why I said, ‘who are these motherf***ers, show me their picture, I’ve never seen them before’.”

He was asked if he had ever been treated for mental illness. He said no. And then: “Only thing I can think of, these guys, whomever they were, they would have had to have made a move of aggression on me …”

And that’s when the jury was dismissed for the day. Afterward, Judge Theresa Doyle and the lawyers went back to the matter that had erupted on Wednesday, regarding the defense objecting to the prosecution having not told them that SPD CSI Detective Kim Biggs had been asked to go back recently to re-examine Chambers’s car (still in the SPD holding area) to see if its lock button worked. Judge Doyle had already denied the defense’s motion for a mistrial, and now said she would deny their alternate request to ask the jury to ignore Biggs’s testimony: “Suppression would be extraordinary.” With the trial continuing for weeks to come, she said, the defense still had time to get an expert to talk to about “BMWs of that vintage.”

The end-of-day discussion was a continuation of how Thursday began, and Wednesday ended. On Thursday morning, before the jury was brought in for the day, the defense’s argument on the point had focused on doubts that recent results could be applied to how the car did or did not work on the night of the shooting, for reasons including that year’s BMWs having “a lot of glitches and problems, so leaving it unused for two years could have caused problems in itself.”

Prosecutors contended Thursday morning that the defense had had ample time to examine the locks “to support their defendant’s story/theory” but hadn’t done so when they checked out the car in 2012. They suggested it “strains credulity that a car that has been sitting for two years now has functioning locks” if it didn’t when impounded two years earlier.

The defense countered that there was no way to know how the car had been affected by Detective Biggs having had its battery charged in order to check this. The lock problem “is one of Mr. Chambers’s cornerstones in his defense,” Goldsmith said.

Prosecutor Margaret Nave said, “All that Biggs did was put the car on a charger, then sat in the car, tried to turn the key to use the locks, then pushed the button to lock the door from inside while the key was in the ignition.”

Judge Doyle said Goldsmith could cross-examine Biggs at a later time, given everything that had come up, but that the detective would return to the stand for the conclusion of direct questioning by prosecutors.

So that is how Thursday morning began for the jurors, with the remainder of Biggs’ initial testimony, which was brief, confirming that she had taken measurements at the crime scene and that she had seen an ammunition magazine at the Chambers home.

She was followed by Detective Don Ledbetter, also of the SPD CSI unit, also called in to work the night of the shooting. He testified that he took photos of the scene and did the scene map documenting the evidence, using a “total station” – a device that can measure distance, planes, and angles; surveyors use it. He said he created and teaches a course for other SPD employees in how to use it. With the jury seeing a photo of it at the scene, he explained to them that it can spin horizontally and vertically to “generate an electronic map” superior to past mapping done with tape measures – more distance, more accuracy, etc.

He also spoke of the evidence components that others had mentioned in previous testimony – the bullet placards, the shovel, blood at the scene; a limited search of the Chambers home. In cross-examination, Det. Ledbetter clarified that his role wasn’t to write reports, but to provide information for the “primary” – Det. Biggs, on that night. He recalled only speaking with fellow police at the scene. Ledbetter was asked by Goldsmith about the location of the placards marking casings: “The locations … on the map shows where they were when you saw them. And ostensibly, where they landed when they were fired. But you don’t know if they could have been moved or not before you were there. Assuming they weren’t moved, the person doing the shooting was very close to those casings, but you can’t say with specificity as to where exactly the person was standing, or if they were moving.”

Ledbetter’s reply: “Correct.” He also was asked to confirm that the distance from placard #4 to the shovel was about 10 feet, and that it was 13 to 14 feet from the shovel to placard #3.

In re-direct questioning by the prosecution, Ledbetter said there’s great variety in how far casings would go from a shooter, depending on factors such as the model of the gun and how it’s being held, so, there was no clear way to “definitively show on the map exactly where the shooter would have been standing.”

Then Detective Steiger was called to the witness stand.

Questioned by prosecutor Isaacson, he went through his background, including that he now teaches interview/interrogation to officers. Asked about his own techniques, he said, “I don’t come in with a script that I’m going to follow … I decide on the fly how this interview will go. I always sit on the same side of the table as the person I’m speaking with; I decide whether to increase the pressure or lower the pressure, how to steer someone back to the topic they’re speaking about, it’s an art, not a science at all. … The goal is to find out what the truth is, and that’s all.”

The night of the shooting, he was on call as a standby detective, with partner Det. Jason Kasner. They arrived in Morgan Junction at the same time and walked around looking at the scene and talking with officers. When they found out a suspect was in custody, they asked that he be brought to the Homicide office on the seventh floor of SPD headquarters downtown. At HQ, he said, he first spoke with Sara Chambers in an interview room, for about 20 minutes. He described her demeanor as “calm, cooperative, and I would describe it as a state of mild shock.” He said that when he first saw Lovett Chambers, “I thought he was too intoxicated at the time to interview. … When I say intoxicated, I say blotto’ed, basically, lethargic, slurring, not walking that steadily when I saw him, sat in chair and appeared to be falling asleep, that sort of thing. We placed him in that room to hold him there while we were preparing, other work to do, he appeared so intoxicated to ME that I called the sergeant and asked that a blood draw be included on search warrant, so we could take him to hospital draw his blood and tell exactly what his level of intoxication is.”

And that’s where the trial broke for lunch – followed by Steiger’s continued testimony (earlier in this report), including playback of the video of Chambers in Interview Room #1, which is also where they’ll pick back up Monday morning.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Trial report, Wednesday 3/5/2014 (Defense protests surprise, calls for mistrial)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/4/2014 (‘Police and a passerby’)
Trial report, Monday 3/3/2014 (‘Back to the background’)
Trial report, Thursday 2/27/2014 (Jamie Vause’s second & final day on the stand)
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)

EDITOR’S NOTE: Thanks to WSB editorial-team member Katie Meyer for covering the Thursday morning trial session while editor Tracy Record attended to a long-previously-scheduled commitment (over in time to return to court before the lunch break ended).

20 Comments

  1. Thank you again WSB, for the fascinating coverage. The detective in the story mentions how intoxicated Mr. Chambers was. I have to wonder why the bar kept serving him that night. Alcohol, guns, racism, marijuana, and mouthiness are not a good mix.

    Comment by Marianne — 9:11 am March 8, 2014 #

  2. All three men heavy drinkers and marijuana/drug users, leading to a senseless tragedy. Thanks again WSB for keeping us all informed!

    Comment by Westsider — 10:47 am March 8, 2014 #

  3. The lock wiring has been out of the weather for two years and then gets tested and that apparent result is accepted by the judge.

    Comment by dsa — 11:28 am March 8, 2014 #

  4. -derail- Another person who thinks keeping their gun in their PARKED CAR is a fine idea – yeah, no thief will ever check under the seat, or in the glove box. Sure wish some gun owners would get over that bright idea. -end derail-

    Comment by Mookie — 12:54 pm March 8, 2014 #

  5. Well he was a 9-time violent felon in possession of a firearm. We don’t know if he had his firearm rights restored – but it should be mentioned that felons cannot own firearms (unless they’ve had their rights restored). It’s in violation of federal law. A convicted felon has to go through a process to have their firearm rights restored. This is a Class C felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

    Comment by ScubaFrog — 1:06 pm March 8, 2014 #

  6. Yes, I know about Chambers’ particular felon status. Regardless, I hear about guns and ammo stolen from vehicles every WEEK over the scanner. A lot of those are legally owned and licensed – that’s often mentioned as well – they’re just owned by very, very irresponsible people. I’m so damn tired of that, and wish the legal owners get a hefty fine when that happens.

    Comment by Mookie — 2:02 pm March 8, 2014 #

  7. ScubaFrog – Sure, the defendant might have to face federal firearm charges, but that is absolutely not what is being weighed in this courtroom. This jury will be presented with evidence related to the specific charges in this case, and they will not be deciding their verdict on the basis of his past record, and they will not be weighing any federal charges. That’s just how it works.

    Comment by Community Member — 2:19 pm March 8, 2014 #

  8. ScubaFrog, I’m just happy that you aren’t a judge.

    Comment by Seahawks Momma — 5:13 pm March 8, 2014 #

  9. Seahawks Momma, what about my post has made you upset? I’m just stating facts. Please remember it’s the jury that decides guilt, or innocense – not a judge. Your choice of words are unfortunate.

    Community Member, one’s background is always scrutinized in a trial. So are the victim(s) background(s), as we’ve seen Mr. Goldsmith try to assault the witnesses’ past histories (as well as attempts to discredit the police/prosecutor, and the effort to force a mistrial).

    Anyhow, I’m convinced Justice will be served.

    Comment by ScubaFrog — 5:45 pm March 8, 2014 #

  10. Scubafrog, I think you are mistaken about background always being part of a trial. Of course the defense lawyer is attempting to discredit the prosecution’s witnesses, and later in the trial the prosecution will do what it can to discredit the defense’s witnesses. And if there is a conviction, the judge will take criminal history into account during sentencing. But my understanding is that there is a good chance that the jury will decide this case without any information about Mr. Chambers’ history.

    Comment by Community Member — 6:18 pm March 8, 2014 #

  11. Community Member of course you’re right – the jury’s only supposed to decide the outcome based on the facts of what happened that night. But that’s rather na├»ve to think that jurors (who are human), don’t develop their own prejudices in regards to the defendant(s) and/or victim(s) personal information (including their past histories, etc). Sadly, I’m sure those prejudices weigh heavily in their conscious and subconscious minds in regards to the verdict (even though they’re not supposed to). And like you said, both the prosecution and defense will try and paint a picture of either side, to suit their respective agendas (apart from the events that are being scrutinized). That could be one reason why so many innocent men and women are sent to prison in the US – and even executed…

    Comment by ScubaFrog — 6:48 pm March 8, 2014 #

  12. Scubafrog, the jurors are unlikely to know anything about Chamber’s past. They will not be present in court when any of it is discussed. They are instructed NOT to discuss the case outside of court, to avoid any news of the case, not to do any research on the case, etc. Since WSB (and a little in the WSH) is the only news organization that is following the case, the juror would have to be reading the blog or talking to someone that did. Jurors can’t even talk to other jurors about the case until deliberations begin. If one juror were to bring up what they had discovered outside of court, they would likely be reported for juror misconduct, likely resulting in a mistrial.

    Comment by Alan — 9:57 am March 9, 2014 #

  13. Isn’t part of their argument PTSD based on his past incarcerations? How is his past not going to come up?

    Comment by MyEye — 12:03 pm March 9, 2014 #

  14. My guess is that the incident related to the PTSD happened on the first arrest in 1961, when he would have been around 16. If so, there would be no need to bring up later arrests or convictions.
    I am most curious as to how his side of the story is going to be presented, since he seems to be the only living witness to his side of the story. I have never been involved with a case where the defendant took the stand, but I know that doing that opens one big ugly can of worms and it may be that questions would be asked that would at least insinuate an earlier life of crime.

    Comment by Alan — 2:11 pm March 9, 2014 #

  15. That seems unfortunate: That the victim’s pasts can be thoroughly scrutinized – but that the defendant’s past can’t be. But this country’s “justice system” is hardly a shining beacon for the world. We incarcerate more people than any other country on earth (even more than Stalin’s gulags). Disgraceful.

    Comment by ScubaFrog — 3:46 pm March 9, 2014 #

  16. If all the details here how witnesses didn’t show up on time and all, I think the prosecutors are messing up biig time.

    Comment by Seahawks Momma — 4:06 pm March 9, 2014 #

  17. I think it is pretty normal during trials for there to be delays due to witnesses not being available. I really don’t think that’s anything unusual, and I don’t think it is the prosecutors “messing up”.
    .
    ScubaFrog – mostly the backgrounds come up when a lawyer is attempting to discredit a witness’s testimony. Otherwise, if a lawyer tries to bring up a witness’s past or the defendant’s past, in theory the judge will say that they can’t do it because it isn’t relevant to what happened that night. But in this case the defense may be allowed more leeway than usual to bring up the victim’s past, because it may make a self-defense claim seem more plausible.
    .
    It is somewhat unusual that the defense attorney brought up the criminal past during opening statements. Perhaps that is to try and explain why the defendant didn’t go straight to the police, etc. Or at least to creat reasonable doubt. Or maybe the lawyer thinks it may come up later, and it’s best to not have it surprise the jury. I don’t know what the defense attorneys are thinking, but remember, they just need to make it so the jury doesn’t think the prosecution has proven it’s case. The jury doesn’t need to think that Mr. Chambers is a saint.
    .
    If Mr. Chambers testifies, the prosecution would be able to ask many questions that would be intended to discredit his testimony. Not say that because he committed a crime in 1966 he must be guilty of this crime, but to say that since he’s been living a lie, perhaps the jury needn’t believe his testimony much.

    Comment by Community Member — 6:58 pm March 9, 2014 #

  18. I just find it odd, that people who say they move to escape problems in one area, seem to always find it somewhere else. It may not only be your environment, but your mentality, which doesn’t change because of the change of scenery.

    Comment by Concerned Athlete — 11:05 pm March 10, 2014 #

  19. Will there be any coverage of the trial from last week?

    Comment by Concerned Neighbor — 11:56 am March 16, 2014 #

  20. It’s all already been published – newest story (from Thursday’s proceedings – the trial is not in session on Fridays) is linked in the sidebar (under BIG STORIES), and it has links to all previous stories, as does every report, at the end. – Tracy

    Comment by WSB — 12:11 pm March 16, 2014 #

Sorry, comment time is over.

All contents copyright 2014, A Drink of Water and a Story Interactive. Here's how to contact us.
Header image by Nick Adams. ABSOLUTELY NO WSB PHOTO REUSE WITHOUT SITE OWNERS' PERMISSION.
Entries and comments feeds. ^Top^