Morgan Junction murder trial: Prosecution rests, defense begins

March 20, 2014 at 8:55 am | In Crime, West Seattle news | 8 Comments

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

gavel.jpgWhen the Morgan Junction murder trial resumes this morning, it will be the first full day of testimony in defense of 69-year-old Lovett “Cid” Chambers, who doesn’t deny shooting and killing 35-year-old Travis Hood on January 21, 2012, but says it was self-defense.

Defense lawyers began presenting their case after the prosecution rested on Wednesday, four weeks after jurors were seated and started hearing the case. It was the first day of proceedings this week, after court was called off Monday and Tuesday due to illnesses.

The first defense witness, expected to spend most if not all of today back on the stand, is forensic psychologist Dr. Mark Cunningham, who evaluated Chambers and concluded his actions were affected by post-traumatic stress disorder.

But first, Wednesday began with Seattle Police Homicide Detective Tim DeVore, the final prosecution witness, finishing his time on the stand:

As one of the lead homicide detectives on the case, DeVore made decisions guiding others investigating the case, including what kind of evidence CSI tested for. A focus of questioning has been why DNA evidence was not sought from the exterior of Chambers’ BMW early on, before it was towed along wet roads, leaving it covered with what DeVore acknowledged was a “film of ‘road haze’.” Chambers contends the victim and his friend Jamie Vause tried to get into his car and that’s part of what led to the shooting.

Questioned on Wednesday morning by prosecutor Margaret Nave, DeVore said he did not ask for the car’s exterior to be tested for DNA for reasons beyond the “road haze”: “When I looked for signs, indications of an attack (occurring) on the passenger side of the vehicle, I found no scratches, rubs, marks, fingerprints … and made a decision not to go to the next examination, which would be (testing for) trace DNA.” Procuring DNA left behind just by someone touching an object is difficult, he also testified.

Asked why the BMW wasn’t covered, DeVore said that was “standard policy,” as was the fact it was towed behind a regular tow truck, rather than taken from Chambers’s Gatewood home on a flatbed “tow” truck. Those were generally used only for vehicles that were untowable, he said, also confirming that Vause’s pickup truck, by which Hood was shot, also was towed to the SPD impound/processing facility.

Nave also asked about other investigative details that had emerged in earlier testimony – DeVore confirmed he had investigated the knife found in the back of Vause’s pickup, including photographing where it was discovered and talking with Vause – and he said he did not investigate Vause for marijuana use, though some was found in the truck, because that was “not of interest” in his role investigating the homicide. Vause’s parole violation from another state was also mentioned by Nave; DeVore reiterated what had been mentioned earlier in the trial, that the warrant was not extraditable – “meaning we don’t have the ability to arrest (a person with that kind of warrant) in Washington state.”

Vause had already moved to California by the time prosecutors asked for a DNA sample in July of last year, and DeVore described his reaction as “cooperative, willing”; it was obtained by police in the town where he now lives.

Other investigative details over subsequent months, DeVore confirmed in response to questions from Nave, included examining the knife for DNA and for the substance on it that Vause had said was “concentrated marijuana,” as well as testing Chambers’s gun, ammunition, and holster, plus the shovel that Hood was said to have been holding and the clothes he was wearing when shot.

Defense lawyers’ first request to check out the BMW for themselves was made in December 2012, almost a year after the shooting, DeVore testified. By that point, he said, the car was “covered in a layer of dust …” with hand prints visible in that dust, which was not present when he looked at the car shortly after the shooting.

At mid-morning, defense lawyer Ben Goldsmith began cross-examination.

He focused first on the timing of DeVore’s involvement in the case – the on-duty homicide sergeant contacted him around noon the day after the shooting; the detective started work the next day, along with his partner.

“As case detective, you would like to hit the ground running as soon as you can … maybe if a different supervisor had been on that night, you might have gotten the call sooner?” Yes, DeVore said.

Other questions brought out that:

*He and his partner spent about an hour canvassing the area on their first day of investigating, the second day after the shooting, looking for surveillance video and talking with witnesses; they did not try to knock on doors or talk to residents at Cal-Mor Circle across the street. DeVore had testified earlier that part of the reason for that was that they hadn’t been at the scene the night of the shooting and therefore had no idea which units had lights on and might have been home to someone who saw something.

*He did not ask Vause about any other possible drug use the night of the shooting

*The request for Vause’s DNA came from the defense (DeVore said he received the request via prosecutors)

*The BMW could have been “wrapped” for evidence preservation, though DeVore said that is not commonly done

*Some of the other evidence submitted for DNA testing wasn’t in pristine condition, given the weather that night and other conditions, such as the “dirt-mulch mix” of a planting area in which one casing was found

*The doors of Chambers’s BMW form “a tight seal,” as Goldsmith put it, when closed, and the windows “move down a little and up a little” when opened/closed, as part of that

On re-direct questioning, Nave had DeVore reiterate that homicide detectives are not necessarily assigned until a case becomes a homicide, which this was not, until Hood’s death the next day. Another question: When detectives took a statement from Chambers, did he ever say he had seen a knife during the alleged attack? DeVore’s response: No.

Goldsmith and Nave went through two more brief rounds of re-cross-examination and re-direct questioning,:

*If you think a car is going to yield evidence, wouldn’t you want to do “evidentiary analysis” where that car is found? Reply: Yes.

*Could “evidentiary analysis” include a simple visual examination of the vehicle? Yes.

*But there was nothing that would have prevented the car from being processed for DNA where it was found? Yes.

And at 11:17 am Wednesday, the prosecution rested.

With the jury out of the room, the defense tried again to get Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle to dismiss the case. Yes, said Goldsmith, the prosecution had “proven to any standard that Mr. chambers has shot Mr. Hood and that those shots killed Mr. Hood. But that’s not what this case is about, it’s about proving intent and providing criminal intent …” and he contended that had not happened.

The judge denied the motion quickly, saying there is definitely a question for the jury to settle, whether self-defense or crime.

Somewhat extensive discussion then ensued about a 150-plus-slide deck to be used by the first defense witness, including both whether it was needed/appropriate, and whether it included improper “character evidence” about Chambers’s crime-free life over the past 20-plus years. The defense contended the slides simply comprised “a listening aid” and also noted that in addition to some points of his recent life, it also included a mention of correctional facilities in which he had been confined. Disputed points even included mentioning a back injury from which Chambers suffered; the defense contended that was relevant to “his perception of his own vulnerability … he’s an old man.” (Goldsmith at that point turned to Chambers and apologized for describing him that way, “but you are.” The defendant will turn 70 in October.)

This discussion took so much time, the jury was released for lunch early, and the defense team promised to make some agreed-on changes and get the result to Judge Doyle during the lunch break. She also agreed to read an “instruction” to the jury before the witness – basically, something of a disclaimer.

And that set the stage for Dr. Mark Cunningham to take the stand after lunch. He went on extensively about his background, in the beginning – he is a private clinical and forensic psychologist, licensed in 23 states, having testified in trials hundreds of times. Most of his practice, he said, is dealing with people who have suffered trauma. We even learned his rate – $300/hour – and how he prepared his report, including 10 hours of interviewing Chambers over two days in March of 2013, interviewing his wife just before that, his “maternal half-sister” in April of last year, and reviewing police interviews with several of the witnesses, more investigation records, Chambers’s records from California and Indiana, his medical records from the King County Jail, even media reports – that slide mentioned WSB and the Seattle Times.

The list of what he had reviewed to prepare his report went on: Case law regarding conditions at the Indiana Boys School, where Chambers had spent time; his stepfather’s criminal records; photos in the case; police’s videotaped interview with Chambers; audio interviews with witnesses; recorded 911 calls …

Once he had completed listing all that background, he went through key points of what led him to believe that PTSD affected Chambers’s actions: Exposure to family instability/dysfunction in childhood, which Dr. Cunningham testified “increases the likelihood of adverse reaction to traumatic experiences later in life”; exposure to traumatic experiences with police and law enforcement in childhood; traumatic exposures and experiences in youth facilities; exposure to life-threatening traumatic experiences in various correctional systems, including the Los Angeles County Jail and the Federal Bureau of Prisons, “produc(ing) intense feelings of personal vulnerability.”

All those experiences, the psychologist summarized, “resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder, as well as a deep-seated distrust of law enforcement and the correctional system.” If the shooting “occurred as (Chambers) described,” he said, he believes PTSD could have been part of what “caused him to believe he was in imminent danger of death or great personal (harm) when he shot Mr. Hood.” He also said that “if (the shooting) occurred as described,” Chambers’s professed inability to remember details “can be explained by a high degree of stress in an individual with PTSD.” And, he said, “it is not surprising he would respond evasively when interrogated,” not just because of PTSD, but because of the “judgment impairments associated with intoxication.”

The report went on to note that “with the exception of owning/carrying a handgun (while being) a convicted felon, driving without a license, failing to appear for a traffic citation, he was not involved in criminal activity and maintained a conventional lifestyle for the past 20+ years.”

The next section of Cunningham’s testimony went extensively into Chambers’s life history, growing up in Indianapolis, and the reasons he assessed it as unstable. He was one of four children, including his oldest sister, born to his mother at age 16. His father was killed in a car crash when Chambers was 5 and was described as a “drinker and gambler.” His mother subsequently worked two jobs and was seldom home; she remarried when Chambers was about 13, and that husband, too, was an alcoholic as well as being verbally abusive, Cunningham said.

When a juvenile, Chambers was “slapped around” by police, he testified, adding that he also had been hit by police as an adult, while being restrained by two officers and wearing handcuffs, though he “had not been putting up resistance.”

The rest of the afternoon’s testimony went over details that were mentioned in the defense’s opening statement – conditions at correctional and juvenile facilities where Chambers spent time, including both violence he said he experienced and violence, including sexual abuse, he said he had witnessed. The violence included corporal punishment administered by juvenile facilities’ staff members, with Cunningham adding that Chambers described “apathetic staff … not recognizing the psychological consequences of mistreatment of these children.” He added that a friend of Chambers who was at a “work farm” with him in their late teens was put into a type of solitary confinement after refusing to obey orders to “break rocks,” and died after contracting pneumonia.

There was no description or mention of what had led to Chambers being placed in these institutions. But all of the above was relevant to PTSD, Cunningham testified, because it led to an “increased sense of personal vulnerability … (and) you can’t look to somebody else to protect you.” The PTSD would be “a lens through which to see (Chambers’s) conduct,” he suggested, including “carrying a gun as a convicted felon.”

And that’s where court ended for the day.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Trial report, Thursday 3/13/2014 (Prosecution calls final witness)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/12/2014 (More blood-alcohol-level discussions)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/11/2014 (Interrogation discussion, autopsy photos)
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)

8 Comments

  1. The defense seems pretty desperate to discredit the defendant’s own incriminating behavior when questioned after the shooting. PTSD? Really? I hope the jury realizes that there are a hundred OTHER possible reasons as well. I’m very interested to hear the rest of the details of this trial. Thanks WSB for the excellent reporting on this story.

    Comment by Skeptic — 4:21 pm March 20, 2014 #

  2. I was just wondering, but is Mr. Chambers represented by a public defender? If so, why? He apparently had a relatively prosperous lifestyle.

    Comment by interested reader — 8:28 am March 21, 2014 #

  3. IR – His lawyers are from the Public Defense Association: http://www.defender.org/about
    .
    I am not privy to personal details other than what’s emerged in court but while he drove a BMW, I haven’t seen any other indications of a “prosperous lifestyle.” Seemed more solidly middle-class. His Gatewood neighborhood is full of WWII-era bungalows; his home was purchased in 1993 and, having bought a warbox about half a mile away that same year, I can tell you things were pretty affordable then. He ran a couple of small businesses from his house, after having been a laborer for some years and then, according to Thursday testimony (story to come as soon as I can get to it, and I hope that means today), suffering a back injury. Anyway, your question raises an interesting point about criteria for publicly funded defense. I would just guess, before researching, that if you are charged with murder, there’s a lower bar for meriting it … will look all this up later (we have some legal experts in the readership but I have no guarantee they’ll see this and weigh in) … Tracy

    Comment by WSB — 8:38 am March 21, 2014 #

  4. Public defenders are appointed not just for the truly poor. King County’s Office of Public Defense, which administers and screens public defense assignments does an intake on a person requiring disclosure of financial information. There is a sliding fee scale for those who can afford some, but not all legal fees. So many people who have a public defender are paying part of the fees themselves, and the rest are subsidized by the OPD budget.

    To put this in context, for a murder trial like this, a privately retained lawyer’s fee would be $50,000-$75,000 (and that is a low amount, because this was a simple case without a lot of forensic issues).

    Comment by wscommuter — 10:40 am March 21, 2014 #

  5. Thanks, WSC!

    Comment by WSB — 11:03 am March 21, 2014 #

  6. What’s going on? What happened on Thursday? I expect that you will provide equal coverage of the defense, in a timely manner., just as you have provided coverage of the prosecution. I know it’s probably becoming a tiresome process going to court in town 4 days a week for the last few weeks. Perhaps that’s why the prosecution goes first, to make people tired by the time the defense comes around. That being said..your coverage has been stellar for the last few weeks.

    Comment by Erin — 10:56 am March 23, 2014 #

  7. I am writing and publishing that story today. Just haven’t had time. We work 24/7 and the news doesn’t stop for us to catch up. It’s not tiresome … just time-consuming (including the 2 hours or so to turn each day’s notes into a story) … but I decided unilaterally to take this on and will be seeing it through to the verdict (and of course anything beyond). Each story has been and will be published before the next day’s proceedings. Last week there were only two court sessions because the judge was out sick Monday and a prosecutor was out sick Tuesday (as mentioned in short updates each day) – TR

    Comment by WSB — 11:06 am March 23, 2014 #

  8. Thanks WSB, I appreciate your response. Looking forward to the update. (I was aware of the sick days, that’s why I specifically mentioned Thursdays proceedings)

    Comment by Erin — 3:42 pm March 23, 2014 #

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