By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The jury in the Morgan Junction murder trial never did re-enter the courtroom after lunch on Wednesday.
While they waited behind a closed door at the back of Superior Court Judge Theresa Doyle‘s courtroom – the door bailiff Nyoka Maraire opens multiple times each session before calling out, “Please rise for the jury!”– a drama played out just yards away, with the case’s future at stake.
Defense attorney Ben Goldsmith announced he wanted the judge to declare a mistrial – or, to at least have the jury be told to ignore the testimony of Seattle Police CSI Detective Kim Biggs, who had been on the witness stand all morning and part of the preceding afternoon.
Just before the noon break, Det. Biggs had been testifying about what she saw in defendant Lovett “Cid” Chambers‘s blue BMW, which has been in the SPD evidence-processing facility since hours after the January 21, 2012, fatal shooting of Travis Hood. She talked about going back for a look at its door locks recently. (They figure into the defense’s version of what happened that night.)
“Two weeks before the trial started, (prosecutor Margaret) Nave asked Detective Biggs to re-check the locks of the BMW. The defense was never told about this. We learned at 11:40 this morning when (Biggs) was testifying … that came as an enormous shock to us.”
He was clearly furious. “We learn about (this) after five weeks of pretrial (proceedings) where just about everything that has come before the jury in this case was litigated extensively … so we can avoid ‘trial by surprise’.”
He called it a “gross and flagrant violation” of the prosecution’s obligations, described himself as “shocked and dismayed,” and further pronounced what had happened “flabbergasting … I have never had a situation where I was sandbagged to this degree … this affects, mercurially, Mr. Chambers’s right to a fair trial.”
The car, Goldsmith noted, had “been sitting there for two years … I don’t know what’s been done to it for two years.”
Prosecutor Nave said she didn’t “believe the remedy for this is mistrial or exclusion,” suggesting the defense could go check out the car and/or interview Det. Biggs “at length” before she resumed testimony.
Judge Doyle asked Goldsmith what he would have done differently if he had learned sooner about the report Biggs wrote regarding the recent examination of the car. He replied that perhaps he would have contacted someone from BMW, or hired an expert regarding the locks. Otherwise, he is “stuck with (the detective’s) answer and not knowing if it’s true.”
“You could arrange to go see if the lock button works,” said the judge.
“But that doesn’t tell me anything meaningful – it tells me if Det. Biggs is a blatant liar or not.”
Goldsmith leafed through a copy of “Washington Court Rules”; the judge asked Nave why she hadn’t told him about this, which seemed to be a violation of the discovery rule.
“I didn’t have any plan to not tell him about it … it ended up that he wasn’t told,” but, she insisted, not deliberately.
Judge Doyle finally said she didn’t think the violation “rose to the level of mistrial,” and observed that so far, she “thinks Mr. Chambers is getting a fair trial, and has been since Day One when we got this case.” But she also said she wasn’t sure what to do about the violation – “maybe take it up as a post-trial motion if there is a conviction?” – and asked Goldsmith what he thought should be done. Should they adjourn early for the day?
After taking about 15 minutes to confer out of the courtroom, the defense took the judge up on her offer and said they would proceed to interview Detective Biggs. With that, the jury was dismissed before 3 pm.
Now, back to Det. Biggs’ testimony before lunch, the only testimony the jury heard on Wednesday. It focused on both of the vehicles that figure closely into the case, both of which left the scene moments after the shooting.
Picking up where they had left off on Tuesday, she was asked about what was found in the console of Chambers’s BMW: A mailbox key and unfired round. A closeup of the bullet, still in a cartridge, was shown in the first of many photos displayed during the morning. It was stamped with a C, said the detective, adding that she didn’t know what manufacturer that signified.
The smudged water spots on the car’s “C pillar” – the strip of body between the right side of the rear window and the back of the right rear passenger side – were again noted, as was the security at the SPD processing room – cars are towed into a secure warehouse that requires a “fob to get through the first door,” with SPD personnel required to escort the tow driver, then a second rollup door accessible only to “sworn officers and detectives,” and then finally a “processing area behind aircraft doors, where only CSI detectives and latent-print examiners have access.” The car was seen in a photo on blocks “so a forklift could get under and lift it up.” Det. Biggs testified she had seen “no indication of any fingerprints on that C-pillar.”
Next, a photo of the floorboard behind the BMW driver’s seat, with a floor mat from which “sticking out .. was a black nylon ammo pouch with two ammo magazines that appeared to be full.” The ammunition, Biggs said, was “hollowpoint” and marked “Spear 45 Auto” and “Federal 45 Auto,” same as two of the types found at the scene.
Also found in the car: A white lens-cleaning cloth on the car’s floor; vehicle registration in the names of Cedrick Mann (described early in the investigation as a name Chambers used) and Sara Chambers; prescription drugs labeled with the names Cedric Mann, Cid Chambers, and Lovett Chambers.
Nave next questioned Biggs about her examination of the red Ford pickup truck belonging to Hood’s friend Jamie Vause, who was with him when he was shot.
Photos showed the pickup bed “filled with stuff” – including tangled cords or wires, and vegetation described as “twigs” – as well as its cab interior stained with blood on the seat, the floor, the door.
Using the term “bullet defect” for bullet hole or ding, Biggs testified about “systematically (going) around the vehicle looking for them.” Photos showed the “defects” on the door frame, on the back of the truck, on the right side of the top of its bed, on the left inside wall of its bed. Asked the telltale signs of a “bullet defect,” she spoke of “the patterning of the hole” and minute signs such as “paint flakes barely hanging on.” Equipment is also used to determine the trajectory of the bullet when it created the “defect.” And the toolbox includes the “presumptive tests” mentioned in testimony a day earlier – testing for lead and copper.
Biggs said she had gone under the truck to “look between the sheet metal on the outside of the truck and the bed liner” to determine a bullet’s trajectory “from the right side of the truck to the left side of the truck, through the truck bed liner, to hit (a) little spot where the paint is missing – this defect is pushed toward the outside but didn’t actually penetrate through.”
Attention was called to the folding knife that had been brought up before; more photos showed it in the right side of the truck bed, toward the cab, open, on the night of the shooting.
She was given the envelope in which it’s been kept, and opened it. Also in the truck, she said, was a glass pipe, in its ashtray, and two purple canisters believed to have held marijuana.
Testimony turned back to the BMW and its locks. A photo of the stick-shift console inside the car was shown, and buttons for locking/unlocking doors were pointed out. (This was where Det. Biggs mentioned the recent re-examination of the car, to which the defense later objected.) Characteristics of the scene and the surrounding area were discussed as well, including the location of overhead lights in the area, and the use of a “laser measuring device” to determine the distance from the front door of each of the two bars near the scene – Feedback Lounge and Beveridge Place Pub – to the spot alongside Morgan Junction Park where the shooting happened.
Biggs said she had brought the measuring device with her and was showing it to the jury – a handheld device that appeared to be the size of a smartphone – when Goldsmith said that hadn’t been brought into the case before, so he wanted to take a closer look outside the jury’s presence. That ultimately resulted in an early lunch break, and after the break is when the mistrial request emerged.
As far as we know, court will resume as usual in the 9 am vicinity today, with Detective Biggs still on the stand, still undergoing initial questioning, which would be followed by defense cross-examination – and potentially followups on both sides – before another witness would be called.
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)