Morgan Junction murder trial continues: Words and wounds

March 12, 2014 at 4:24 am | In Crime, West Seattle news | 5 Comments

By Tracy Record and Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The jury in the Morgan Junction murder trial has seen the most graphic evidence presented yet – autopsy photos shown by the prosecution as a doctor from the King County Medical Examiner’s Office testified Tuesday afternoon.

The photos focused on the bullet wounds that killed 35-year-old Travis Hood, and while, as it was reiterated, there is no dispute that the shots were fired by 69-year-old defendant Lovett “Cid” Chambers, the question at issue in the trial remains why he fired them, and the granular details of the wounds are incremental evidence for jurors to consider.

Tuesday, however, began with an ending – the conclusion of testimony from the Seattle Police detective who led questioning of Chambers hours after the January 21, 2012, shooting. He was followed on the stand by his partner, who was also part of the questioning, video from which has been shown the past few days.

The third day of testimony for Detective Cloyd Steiger began with re-direct questioning by prosecutor Mari Isaacson, centering on how and when Chambers had been read his Miranda rights, and whether he had asked to have an attorney present, as those rights provide. Steiger said he thought Chambers was “too intoxicated” to have that presentation made when he first arrived at the Homicide Unit’s office downtown; other police personnel had done it after arresting Chambers at his house an hour after the shooting. But (as heard/seen on the video earlier) they read it again before interrogating him, and while there was no recording device in the SPD car the detectives used to transport him, they say he was read his rights in the car too.

Isaacson asked if Chambers had ever said “lawyer” or “attorney.” “No,” replied Steiger. “What would you have done if he had said that?” “I would have picked up a phone book or asked him if he had a specific attorney he wanted to call.”

About Chambers talking with detectives though he had said earlier he didn’t want to talk, Steiger said suspects “frequently” change their minds about talking.

Defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith followed with re-cross-examination, including a return to the points about whether Chambers had been injured by the police handcuffs – “a person can be intentionally hurt when the handcufs are applied, yes?” “Potentially, yes” – and about him urinating in the interrogation room, after his separate, single knocks on the door failed to draw attention: “You usually tell them that if they need to get your attention, to knock.” “Yes.”

And the timing of the detectives reading Chambers his Miranda rights in the interrogation room was discussed again.

Next witness: Steiger’s partner Det. Jason Kasner, who was part of the interrogation of Chambers at police headquarters. He also described having been called in to work that night and spending a relatively short time at the shooting scene alongside Morgan Junction Park, talking to the sergeant at the scene, and returning to the office, where he started “running various backgrounds” among other things. He recalled hearing that a search warrant was being prepared for Chambers’s house, and that Det. Steiger was talking with the suspect’s wife.

When Chambers arrived at HQ, Kasner said, “he appeared to be intoxicated … swayed a little bit, had slurred speech.” He described the same events Steiger had been asked about, including the trip to Harborview to draw Chambers’s blood for testing, made in a detective car, which he explained differs from a patrol car in that there’s no partition between front/back seats (which means someone sits in back with the suspect), no in-car video camera, no light bar on top. Chambers remained handcuffed during the trip, which Kasner said was standard protocol.

Asked about Chambers’s demeanor after the blood draw, Kasner testified that he seemed to have “sobered up quite a bit.” They drove him to the King County Jail – with Steiger reading him his Miranda warnings at some point – and were in the jail’s “sally port” when, he said, Chambers said something like “I didn’t know who that guy was” and asked if they had a photo of Hood. “We said we had one back at the office and he wanted to see it, so we went back to our office,” instead of continuing with the plan to book him into jail. “Did it appear that Chambers wanted to talk?” “Yes.”

Sections of the interrogation-room video were played. Kasner was heard asking about Chambers’s wrist. The prosecutor followed up on that:

“At one point we hear you say something about his hand cinched in there, in handcuffs.”

“Our handcuffs are circular, our wrists are not, if someone tries to get their hands more uncomfortable and move them, sometimes they will cinch and it makes it more uncomfortable for them.”

“Did you do anything to make him more uncomfortable?”

“No.”

“Did you do anything strategic to cause him pain?”

“No. I always try to make sure they’re fastened so they’re not too right, and not too loose so someone can slip out of them.”

And Kasner said Chambers did not complain of wrist pain or injury.

Cross-examined by Goldsmith, Kasner said he didn’t know a suspect was in custody, nor did he know who the suspect was, while he was at the shooting scene. Fast-forward to Chambers’s arrival at the Homicide Unit office, Goldsmith reconfirmed the timing of the Miranda-rights reading, and that no lawyer had been contacted. Also:

“When he was in the interrogation room, you ran his name and looked up if he had a criminal record.” “Yes.” “Something you routinely do before you interview someone?” “Yes.” However, Goldsmith noted, Kasner had told him in a pre-trial interview last year that he couldn’t recall whether he looked at Chambers’s criminal history before interviewing him.

“I couldn’t recall if I’d reviewed it before I interviewed him. I don’t look at a interviewee’s criminal history every single time, before I speak with them. In this case I did.”

Back to Chambers having been left in the interview room for hours, Kasner said that wasn’t strategic, it was more that “we had reports to do, we had criminal history we had to run, we were waiting for a warrant for the blood draw, and we were waiting for his intoxication level to go down.”

Going back over how they got to the point of taking Chambers downtown instead of booking him into jail after the Harborview blood draw, Det. Kasner described the interrogation as “uneventful.”

Goldsmith turned to the subject of interrogation in general before getting back to the specifics of the interview with Chambers, and specific tactics and techniques, such as watching body language: “… if they shift away, if they’re folding their arms, tugging on their hair, etc.” Goldsmith agreed, adding, “For instance, when I ask questions, I look for a change in behavior. … I’m listening for the truth, I’m not asking questions to specifically elicit those responses.” In a previous interview, though, Goldsmith noted, Kasner had said he was “eliciting stress responses.”

“According to the kind of questions I’m asking, yes.”

Goldsmith turned to the heart of the videotaped questioning of Chambers that had been shown a day earlier, noting that Kasner’s partner Steiger was doing most of the questioning, and that it was a technique “called Direct Positive Confrontation.”

“Yes. You lay out the evidence to get to the truth.”

“Also a purpose to show the suspect how serious this is?”

“Yes.”

“And you want to have the suspect explain why evidence says what it says.”

“Correct.”

“And you are allowed to lie to the suspect?

“Yes.”

… “You can introduce or use ‘ruses’ to bring things into the interview that you know you aren’t true.”

“Correct.”

Goldsmith moved on to the matter of the detectives’ interview with Chambers becoming “confrontational” – eventually replaying some of the video shown Monday, in which they were shouting at him, with Steiger accusing Chambers of lying.

To Kasner, Goldsmith said, “And you never said, detective Steiger, let’s tone it down a little, right?”

“Correct.”

The video continued, with Steiger again seen on the tape yelling “bullsh-t” when Chambers said he couldn’t remember why he did what he did, and Goldsmith telling Kasner that was “not a conversation, that’s an interrogation.”

Kasner responded: “By my definition? No, I’m asking him questions that he can’t seem to answer.”

Then, the video in which Chambers knocked on the door – Kasner called it more of a “thump” than a knock – and then ended up urinating in the room.

“Would you consider it inhumane to have someone in the room and they have to urinate in there?” Goldsmith asked.

“Yes, and I don’t want them to do that, because I have to go in there.”

“But you didn’t know he had urinated in there when you went in?”

“No.”

Goldsmith also noted that the comments about Chambers’ wrist only started after Kasner and Steiger brought him back to HQ after the Harborview blood draw. “So in chronological order, he has to urinate in the interrogation room, then something happens to his wrist, then he gets interrogated?”

“Yes.”

Verifying that Kasner recalled Chambers saying someone tried to get into his car, Goldsmith asked, “Did you ever ask other detectives to get tests on the door handles outside?”

“No, that wasn’t our call.”

And then, back to whether the car doors were locked or unlocked, and how Chambers said the car key opened all the locks. Resuming that line of questioning after the morning break: “You never did follow up to check if Chambers’s car works exactly like he said it did, did you?”

“Correct.”

Going back over Chambers saying “two guys were f—ing with him” and “trailing him” and “talking sh-t” and “calling names,” Goldsmith sought to re-confirm that the detectives never asked for details of what they called him. Kasner replied, “It sounds like he’d already answered it, ‘racial names’.” But exactly what those were, they didn’t ask.

Chambers mentioned something about the men having a knife, said Goldsmith, so was Kasner aware a knife had been found in the back of the truck? No. And about the shovel – Kasner said he saw it, and saw the blood stains, but didn’t know if Hood had been holding it when shot.

That led the prosecution to point out on re-direct that Chambers had never brought up the topic of the shovel, as well as asking Kasner if Chambers had appeared to remember what names he had been called (answer: no). They also established that SPD HQ, Harborview Medical Center, and the King County Jail were a few minutes away from each other.

Goldsmith subsequently went back to the point of the detectives saying Chambers initiated a conversation between Harborview and the jail – yet that was not included in the report they wrote.

Next witness, Jodi Sass, a forensic scientist at the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, which, as explained earlier in the trial, analyzes evidence for law-enforcement agencies around the state. In the customary opening questions about her background, she describes herself as a supervisor in the DNA section, with responsibilities including some direct case work as well as supervising five people.

In this case, she analyzed a DNA sample from Travis Hood’s friend Jamie Vause, who was with him at the time of the shooting, to compare to a “mixed sample” from the knife found in Vause’s truck, to see if his DNA was part of that sample. (In earlier testimony, while the knife was said to belong to Hood for use at his job, Vause said he had used it to try to cut up some concentrated marijuana, and that the concentrate got all over the knife, later thrown into the truck bed when Hood realized he couldn’t take it to work that way.)

Sass testified that with the profile she drew up for Vause, she was able to exclude him as a “possible contributor to the mixture.” Cross-examination brought out the information that this analysis was done at the defense’s request, and that a prior analysis of DNA from the knife handle had confirmed Hood’s DNA was on it.

Someone can touch an item without leaving DNA, though, it was noted, and reiterated when Sass returned to the stand after the lunch break, for brief cross-examination by defense lawyer Lauren McLane.

Up next: Dr. Micheline Lubin, who said she has done more than 1,000 autopsies while working for the King County Medical Examiner’s Office. Their job: “To determine cause and manner of death by examining a dead body, and to assure the identity of the person we’re examining,”

Not all people who die in King County are autopsied; Dr. Lubin testified that they step in when the death is “suspicious, accidental, sudden, or homicidal.” That list is similar to the five classifications the KCME can make regarding the manner of death: “Natural, accidental, suicidal, homicidal, undetermined.”

Sometimes she goes to a scene, but not in this case, since Hood had been taken to the hospital in an effort to save him.

She was asked about the details of the autopsy procedure – bodies are weighed, photographed, and if it’s a homicide case, evidence is taken (sampled) from the body before it’s cleaned. A body also would be X-rayed “to see if any projectile is” inside it.

On January 23rd, 2012, she autopsied Travis Hood. She described gunshot wounds to his right upper back, right mid-back, right mid-abdomen, and arm. Dr. Lubin explained how they can tell an entrance wound – a round hole with an “abrasion collar” where the bullet entered.

Before photos of Hood’s wounds were shown, the jury was given an instruction to which the legal teams had agreed earlier in the day – though parts of the photos were edited out, they were not to draw any inferences from the edits.

(Editor’s caveat from here: The monitor was turned somewhat away from the gallery, so we can’t describe exactly what the jury saw, only what was said.)

One wound in particular was “grave,” Lubin testified – it “lacerated an artery.” That wound might have been enough to make Hood fall down if he had been standing upright, she said.

She was asked how many inches above Hood’s heel each wound was, and asked how long a person might be able to remain conscious with a specific wound. Not long with the one that went through an artery, she said, adding as questioning continued that Hood had “died a few hours after he arrived at the hospital,” and that he had no pulse when the medic unit arrived, as well as when he arrived at Harborview. They were able to restart his heart and “give him back a blood pressure,” but “it wasn’t enough.”

The clothes he had been wearing were shown; a jacket, with stickers pointing to where the bullets had passed through. One bullet went through a zipper. A white T-shirt he had been wearing was reddish-brown from blood, cut in spots by medics.

Aside from the gunshot wounds, Lubin said, Hood was healthy, aside from a little evidence of hypertension.

She was pressed further for what angle he might have been standing at, when shot. And:

Isaacson: “Based on the autopsy, have you formed an opinion on what caused the death of Travis Hood?”

“Multiple gunshot wounds.”

The defense cross-examination got into even more granular details – that there’s no way to tell the order of the gunshots, for example, and the fact that different people will react differently, physically, to gunshot wounds, in terms of how they move – are they knocked down, do they stay standing, etc.

But the body’s position, relative to the gun muzzle, can be deduced, she said – to some degree, at least regarding where it hit, though the rest of the body’s position at that time was open to interpretation. Goldsmith asked at one point, “What about if Mr. Hood was standing in a batter’s stance when hit?”

Dr. Lubin replied, “Like I said, he could have been standing upside down.” Her replies through that line of questioning tended toward things being “possible.”

Goldsmith picked up the shovel again. Lubin said she hadn’t seen it and doesn’t recall anyone mentioning it.

After some discussion of blood testing on Hood, court adjourned for the day.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Trial report, Monday 3/10/2014 (Confrontational video continues)
Trial report, Thursday 3/6/2014 (Car controversy; Chambers on video)
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)

5 Comments

  1. I’m surprised the suspect was allowed to waive Miranda when he was obviously intoxicated. Could blood alcohol level be used to show he was unable to make that decision? I’m also disappointed to learn that police are allowed to lie during interrogation, and scream BULLSH-T in someone’s face. Very informative and educational. Thanks WSB!

    Comment by cruzer — 10:48 am March 12, 2014 #

  2. I’m curious about that, too. At what point is a person legally too intoxicated to be questioned? I certainly know from friends and family that when someone gets beyond a certain point of intoxication, anything they say is suspect, as they no longer can determine what’s real, imagined, drunken “humor” or just plain drunken stupid-talk.

    Additionally, I haven’t seen it (may have missed it) but it would seem that the story of Hood and Vause opening the car door or trying to do so, would have left prints. Was the passenger side door ever checked for prints? That seems like a huge miss, if not, as it could easily corroborate or discount that part of the story.

    Comment by AG — 11:49 am March 12, 2014 #

  3. Note: regarding my comment above, I am NOT commenting on my opinion of guilt vs. innocence. I’m simply asking because I’ve been on a homicide jury before, for a double shooting at Southcenter. I recall a lot of what we had to decide wasn’t so much about whether we thought he did it – we did – but whether they’d *proven* the intent, the motive, and the actions. The prosecution had met the burden of proof in that case, and he’s in jail forever. Because of my prior experience, I’m interested in whether it’s being proven or not, because that’s what the law says the jury has to decide. Proof, not probability.

    Comment by AG — 12:12 pm March 12, 2014 #

  4. AG – The question on the prints has come up in court. Nothing was checked on the car door. No looking for fingerprints or DNA.
    http://westseattleblog.com/2014/03/morgan-junction-murder-trial-jury-hears-from-police-and-a-passerby/

    Comment by Alan — 4:54 pm March 12, 2014 #

  5. Thanks Alan. I hadn’t caught that previously. It seems like a big miss to not check at all. I guess it’s a bigger risk to the prosecution, though, if they were printed and prints corroborated the story. Hm. Interesting case, for sure.

    Comment by AG — 8:07 am March 13, 2014 #

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