Morgan Junction murder-trial update: Cross-examinations dominate the day

March 25, 2014 at 2:48 am | In Crime, West Seattle news | Comments Off

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

gavel.jpgMorgan Junction murder-trial defendant Lovett Chambers, known to friends as “Cid,” has another nickname that emerged in court Monday: “Cookie.”

The second witness for the defense, the 69-year-old defendant’s 73-year-old sister Betty Wynne, said that’s how she has always known him, since their grandmother dubbed him that for a purported love of sweets.

Her testimony – which will continue Tuesday, in what became an awkward cross-examination today – followed the conclusion of the appearance of the first defense witness, forensic psychologist Dr. Mark Cunningham. He had testified that his time examining the defendant, talking to others, and doing extra research led him to believe Chambers had post-traumatic stress disorder from what he saw and what happened to him during his years in juvenile facilities, jail, and prisons, and that it affected his perception of the encounter that preceded the shooting for which he is on trial.

Prosecutor Margaret Nave was cross-examining Dr. Cunningham as last week’s sessions before King County Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle wrapped up, and that’s where she picked up Monday.

The horrific punishment and abuse spoken of during his time in the Indiana juvenile system did not happen to Chambers personally, but to others, Cunningham verified. And the gap between his entry into that system and the 2012 shooting was 56 years? Nave asked the witness.

She also sought to clarify that his various prison stays between 1966 and 1989 were for multiple convictions, “not for just one crime,” and that he spent time in the “highest security unit” of at least two California prisons.

So if “avoidance” was a trait of PTSD, Nave asked, wouldn’t Chambers have wanted to avoid the kinds of conflicts with authority that got him into trouble and put him back behind bars? She said records showed Chambers had more than 20 “infractions serious enough to require discipline” while incarcerated in his 20s.

“It’s more complex than that,” Cunningham said.

“Prison generally is a rough place to be,” Nave suggested.

Cunningham replied that brutality “is not part of the sentence.”

Nave then focused onto a prison psychologist’s evaluation of Chambers in 1966, describing him as having a “passive-aggressive personality,” and clashing with Cunningham over whether Chambers was “paranoid.”

“There’s not a diagnosis of ‘paranoid’, it’s a descriptive term,” stressed Cunningham, saying a person could be “paranoid” without a mental disorder.

“Sounds like you were concerned he was possibly delusional?” she then asked, regarding his concerns that his former prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family, could still come after him, decades after he ended his affiliation.

“I wouldn’t say ‘delusional’ but I would say his fears about them tracking him 30 years later … were way out of proportion.” And again, he said, intense current concern about past events is a PTSD symptom.

Pressing further on that point, she moved on to something that had emerged in Cunningham’s description of Chambers’s account of the night of the shooting, a fear that he was being “rat-packed,” being deliberately distracted and then attacked by multiple assailants. Chambers did not say that actually had happened to him personally in prison, Cunningham acknowledged, but that it happened to others and so he avoided putting himself in situations where it might happen.

Returning to the gap of decades between the PTSD-causing events in Chambers’ childhood/young adulthood and the shooting, Nave asked if PTSD is something “you either have or you don’t.” It could go into “remission,” replied Dr. Cunningham, adding that it’s not something that fits “once you have it, you always have it.”

The next point of her cross-examination was the foundation of Cunningham’s analysis – “so you had to have been told true things in order for it to apply … your opinion is based on what the defendant told you.”

Cunningham pointed out that his overall assertions were prefaced by “if it happened the way he says it did. … I’m not a human lie detector. My findings are that, if you assume this happened as he said it did, then …” and he noted it’s the jury’s job to find whether the defendant is telling the truth.

In recalling certain components of Chambers’s account of the night of the shooting, Nave included a focus on his drinking that night. “Are you aware that, five hours after consuming his last drink, he had the equivalent of (more than 8) standard drinks in his system?” This led her to recall that Cunningham’s report noted Sara Chambers said her husband was not a heavy drinker, though he had been described by others as a regular at three bars, and waitstaff from one said they always served him martinis. “He’s not coming home drunk (so) the beverage he’s consuming while out” doesn’t necessarily matter,” Cunningham said.

Back to the symptoms of PTSD: “Most people (with it) do not commit violent acts,” Nave stated, and Cunningham agreed; she also had him verify that the disorder doesn’t necessarily excuse such acts, and that he had not been “opining” Chambers didn’t know what he was doing the night of the shooting.

“To the best of my knowledge, he knew what he was doing.”

Were his lifestyle changes – moving to Seattle, choosing a quiet neighborhood, marrying his wife – really “avoidance” or just “changing your life”? Nave wondered. And then: How did arming himself with a gun play into “avoiding traumatic stimuli”?

It represented a way to reduce the underlying feelings of vulnerability, Cunningham replied, as did beefing up security at his house.

So then, just before the shooting, leaving his car and following a man he apparently felt was a threat, Nave said, “Where is the avoidance in all this? I’m confused.”

Cunningham countered that he hadn’t described that specific sequence of Chambers’s reported conduct that night as “expressive of PTSD” – but that it was an underlying factor. He suggested that the defendant’s attempt to “engage (one of the men) in conversation, maybe trying to defuse the situation, that would describe an avoidance. … Looking around so he’s not ‘rat-packed,’ that’s also based on his historic experience … it’s not as if his behavior is otherwise nonsensical and irrational.”

Nave’s final major point was that Chambers seemed to have told Cunningham more about what happened to him that night than he had told the police, and she had the psychologist clarify he wasn’t saying the defendant had “forgotten and remembered … but that he always had that information.”

When defense attorney Ben Goldsmith took over for re-direct questioning after that, he picked up the biggest piece of evidence in the courtroom, the shovel that Travis Hood was believed to have been holding when Chambers shot him. Knowing that it had been found at the scene played into Dr. Cunningham’s view of what Chambers had told him about that night, the psychologist said. Same went for the discovery of a knife in the bed of the pickup truck belonging to Hood’s friend Jamie Vause, relating to Chambers’s belief that one of the men was armed with a knife that night.

“If there had been no knife found, would that have affected your assessment?”

“Well, it would have been a factor.”

When assessing someone’s “self-reporting,” Goldsmith asked shortly thereafter, “do you have ways of assessing if (they are) delusional?”

Depends on whether their perceptions are “bizarre, idiosyncratic,” he replied – outlandish, as if you opened the door for someone and claimed it was an alien trying to abduct you.

Staying on the topic of psychological evaluation, Goldsmith asked what psychology was like in the ’50s and ’60s. Cunningham said simply that the overall profession and the mental-health systems in prisons have “come a long way” in the ensuing decades. Goldsmith offered observations that the person who had evaluated Chambers long ago did not seem to have high-level credentials. And, he noted briefly, the report from half a century ago described Chambers as “a Negro.”

Is that still done? Goldsmith asked Cunningham. The reply, of course, was, no.

Lunch break followed, and then a lengthy discussion, including the admissibility of evidence that Chambers had heard racial slurs in the past and not had a strong reaction, and the defense’s request to bring up an expert hired by the prosecution so that expert’s billing practices and costs could be discussed, as were those aspects of Dr. Cunningham’s practice. The prosecution expert, at this point, is not scheduled to testify, and that was at the heart of the contention that the billing/cost info wasn’t relevant. That expert reviewed Dr. Cunningham’s work, the defense argued.

Then it was back to re-direct questioning with defense lawyer Goldsmith. Referring to earlier testimony that Cunningham almost always works with defenders, rather than prosecutors, he was asked if he would accept a prosecution assignment: “Yes.” His standard disclaimer also was discussed – he’s been retained as an agent of the defense, and if his findings aren’t helpful, he probably won’t be called to testify.

The matter of his billing came up again. He keeps records to a tenth of an hour, he noted. He also sometimes can bill a “day rate” – $3,500/day – where the client is charged that price regardless of what he is doing. Instead of billing that, he bills precisely for which time is related to which case, he said. And the luggage-pickup time that came up in cross-examination last week was noted as the only time he “couldn’t have another file open” (in another case) – otherwise, he said, while traveling to one location, he can work on other cases and only bill each one for the time spent on it.

Points visited by prosecutor Nave in re-cross included another mention of what Chambers told Cunningham that he didn’t tell police, regarding following the two men up the street. And, Nave asked, did Chambers tell Cunningham how Travis Hood held the shovel? “No, (only that) he started toward (him), with it.”

As for the qualifications of the prison psychological staff – so you can’t make a good diagnosis without advanced credentials? asked Nave. “There’s a meaningful difference in the quality of the clinical capabilities,” replied Cunningham.

“How long have you known (the person who evaluated Chambers in a California prison)?”

“I don’t.”

“So you know nothing about his qualifications?” but used the diagnosis when it seemed “helpful,” she said, also eliciting that there was no PTSD diagnosis while Chambers was in prison, and that Cunningham did not consult another psychologist.

On re-re-direct, Goldsmith brought out Cunningham’s belief that he didn’t tell police everything he remembered because of factors including his PTSD and stress of the shooting, etc.

After an outside-the-jury’s-presence discussion, it was determined that Cunningham was done, which meant the defense’s second witness could be called: Betty J. Wynne, Chambers’s older sister.

Defense attorney Lauren McLane led Wynne through testimony. She spoke immediately of calling her brother “Cookie,” a nickname she said the entire family used.

Their mother was 16 or 17 when Wynne was born, so she was raised by her grandparents, but she said she maintained a close relationship with her brother, and they talk “all the time” by phone. He came to Indianapolis annually for a summertime family reunion, as well as to visit their mother Mary Chambers, until her death in February 2012. The preceding August was his last visit home, Wynne testified.

She spoke of working as a nurse until retiring in 2008 to take care of their mother, of their siblings – including a brother who died in 2011. She had a different father from her siblings; their father died in a car crash (as had been mentioned earlier in the trial) when Chambers was very young. Her mother’s next husband was a weekend drinker (also mentioned in earlier testimony), and unpleasant conditions at home led her brother to spend more time with his cousins.

McLane also asked her about living “as a black person in segregated Indiana.” Wynne said that “we knew there were certain places we could go and could not go … we were maybe five blocks from an amusement park but we knew we couldn’t go there … or, if we could, there was a certain day we could go … (and) our schools were of course then segregated.” In some areas of the city, she said, they would be stopped “just for walking.”

Did she know much about Chambers getting in trouble with the law in childhood? McLane asked.

“My mother handled a lot of that stuff … we just didn’t talk about stuff like that … that was more or less like her business …”

As the years went by, she said, she and her brother would talk on the phone and exchange letters. In addition to the family reunions, he enjoyed watching car races, so he would visit for the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard races, according to Wynne. But she also said she noticed he was “guarded” when he came home, and would “check out his areas” when visiting, before choosing a place to sit, for example.

The direct questioning was relatively short, and prosecuting attorney Mari Isaacson was soon standing in front of Wynne to cross-examine her. It soon grew awkward, as Isaacson tried to bring up some points Wynne had – or had not – mentioned in their earlier phone interview (witnesses are invariably pre-interviewed long before testifying in trials), and Wynne said she hadn’t understood what that interview was about, so hadn’t answered everything, and wasn’t understanding the questions. She had never been a witness nor a juror, she said, and, referring to Isaacson and Nave, “I didn’t know you ladies, and I didn’t know what you wanted me to say or do. … We just don’t discuss (family) business like that over the phone, I’m sorry.”

It grew increasingly difficult for Isaacson to elicit a response; Judge Doyle finally asked if she had many more questions, and she indicated she did. It was well past the usual 4 pm adjournment time by then, so court was ended for the day, and Wynne will be back on the stand to start the next session Tuesday morning.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

Trial report, Thursday 3/20/2014 (Defense’s 1st witness continues)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/19/2014 (Prosecution rests, defense begins)
(No court Monday-Tuesday 3/17-18 due to illnesses)
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)

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