Second full day of defense testimony tomorrow in Morgan Junction murder trial

March 23, 2014 at 6:52 pm | In Crime, West Seattle news | 1 Comment

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

gavel.jpgTomorrow is scheduled to be the second full day of defense-witness testimony in the Morgan Junction murder trial.

The defense’s first full day, on Thursday, delved into 69-year-old defendant Lovett “Cid” Chambers‘s life, before, during, and after the incident for which he is charged with second-degree murder.

Forensic psychologist Dr. Mark Cunningham was on the stand all day and will be there again when proceedings resume tomorrow morning before King County Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle.

After the conclusion of direct questioning by defense attorney Ben Goldsmith, prosecutor Margaret Nave was cross-examining him about his practice and his pricing by day’s end on Thursday.

Cunningham’s report on interviews with Chambers and others, enhanced by other research, was intended as context for the defense contention that Chambers acted in self-defense, through the prism of post-traumatic stress disorder, when he shot 35-year-old Travis Hood by Morgan Junction Park the night of January 21, 2012. Cunningham drew a portrait of a man who, despite having been out of prison for decades, was constantly on edge for the possibility that dangerous elements from his former life would find him in his new one.

Referring to the defendant by his nickname – by which most knew him in his West Seattle life – Cunningham started Thursday morning by detailing how Chambers entered the Los Angeles County Jail system to find a “very strong gang presence,” though he was “not a part of those jail and prison gangs” and was “not familiar with the politics” – he saw fistfights, stabbings, and felt a significant sense of personal vulnerability.

California’s notorious San Quentin prison, where Chambers arrived in his early 20s, was, testified Cunningham, “the most dangerous place he had ever encountered” – a place where he had “no control over his life … in a place that had zero regard for human life.”

Not only was there a gang system and violence between inmates, but the staff “were ruthless, totally jaded, and only cared about their own wellbeing and which inmates would win in a confrontation.” Cunningham said Chambers told him that prison staff would “directly arm one group,” such as the Aryan Brotherhood, with weapons, and would set up situations where that white group, for example, would outnumber groups of other races.

Goldsmith asked Cunningham about Chambers’s “reporting style” regarding his detailing of these details. “His emotions were congruent with what he was describing,” said Cunningham, adding that the details were not always easy to pry out of him – “it’s not as if I would ask a question and he would give me three pages of information.”

This exchange brought an objection from the prosecution, requiring the jury to be sent out while the lawyers and Judge Doyle discussed it; prosecutors were worried the defense was trying to bolster Chambers’s credibility, but the defense said his “reporting style” was key in supporting the evidence they were presenting.

So, Cunningham returned to the story shortly thereafter, with key points featured in text on the slide deck projected onto a large screen – not the electronic monitor, but more the old-fashioned portable canvas projection screen.

At San Quentin, Chambers “became affiliated with” a prison gang called the Black Guerrilla Family, “as a function of survival,” Cunningham said. “If you were not affiliated with a group, you were subject to being preyed upon by everyone.” Survival still, he said, meant “always keeping your antenna up.”

As further proof of conditions at that prison at that time, Cunningham brought in an account of a 1967 riot; he said he found the story online while doing research after interviewing Chambers.

He listed other prisons in which Chambers subsequently spent time (the reason[s] for the incarceration were not mentioned), including Folsom, where, he told Cunningham, racism was pervasive: “If you were black and out on the yard and got into a fight, you were subject to being shot from one of the guard towers.”

Displayed on the screen, one of Cunningham’s slide noted that Chambers was in San Quentin until 1969, then Folsom until 1971, then Chino for two months, then Vacaville and San Luis Obispo for “a little less than a year each.” When he got out of prison, Cunningham said, Chambers was supposed to keep contributing money to the support of the Black Guerrilla Family gang, but he couldn’t make enough from regular jobs, “so he returned to criminal life.” Somewhere around this point, he acquired the alias Cidrick Mann and “essentially went on the lam,” as the psychologist put it; in 1980 he was caught and returned to the California state-prison system. During this time, he was constantly on alert for “white inmates he characterized as Nazis” who he thought might attack him with the complicity of the prison staff. Cunningham says Chambers also told him he believed his food was being drugged.

He tried to withdraw from the BGF gang and, he told Cunningham, the gang “put out a hit on him.” He said there was an attempt on his life – a Cuban inmate who tried to stab him in the neck – after he wound up in Lompoc Penitentiary, run by the federal government. From there, he was transferred to a federal prison in Terre Haute, Indiana, where he filed a grievance against staff who he said had failed to provide him with a bed board, and where he reportedly was diagnosed as paranoid. A psychiatric evaluation was given after he was transferred to the federal Springfield Medical Center prison facility.

From there, Cunningham said, Chambers was sent to a medium-security prison in Memphis for two years, the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama, and then the FCI in Butner, North Carolina. Cunningham said he concluded that “the above described experiences and exposures resulted in post-traumatic stress disorder in Cid, as well as deep-seated distrust of law enforcement and the correctional system.”

He went through six criteria for the PTSD diagnosis, from the official psychiatric manual – see them here.

When first released from prison in 1972, the psychologist said, Chambers talked of ongoing fear and distrust – to the point where a friend had to remind him he was no longer behind bars. He later moved to San Bernardino, California, for a job, where he had a “mountain cabin in the wilderness” and armed himself with a knife in his truck and a machete in his house.

Eventually he relocated to Seattle for “a change in scenery” and to get further away from what he considered to be the zone where his former prison gang had influence, but, said Cunningham, his “fears were re-activated” not long after his arrival.

One West Seattle incident that rekindled those fears, Cunningham said, was the 1993 murder of Sheryl Hernandez along Beach Drive, a “random hit” for which a young gang member was eventually convicted and sent to prison. “His apprehension intensified” because that was near an area where he and his wife-to-be Sara had picnicked. Also in the news here in the early 1990s was gang activity in Tacoma’s Hilltop area, including Crips, Chambers told Cunningham, who were affiliated with his former prison gang, the Black Guerrilla Family.

To deal with this increased sense of vulnerability and wariness, Dr. Cunningham testified, Chambers installed security measures – motion detectors, alarm systems, door-ajar detectors, a more-secure screen door on the Gatewood home where he and Sara lived; alarm sirens and kill switches on their vehicles. Cunningham said Sara Chambers told him that her husband “was very protective of her” – for example, if they went to a gas station and she stayed in the car while he pumped gas, he would lock her in. He wouldn’t allow her to go hiking alone, though she had done that before they married.

In 1993, she bought a .45-caliber handgun for him at his request, said Cunningham, and shortly thereafter, a 9mm handgun for herself, because Chambers was “adamant about her having self-protection.” He carried his gun with him everywhere, and while at home, it was “always out on a table or nightstand” so it was accessible. He told Sara that if the front door was open with “just the screen door latched,” her gun should always be within reach. While it was illegal for him to carry a gun, as a convicted felon, Cunningham said Chambers saw the situation as no different from his time in San Quentin, when he had some kind of weapon nearby at almost all times – there was a penalty, but that was dwarfed by the perceived risk of being killed if caught unarmed – “the risk he (was) willing to bear.”

His ongoing perception of danger – “awareness and fear of ‘night crawlers’” as the psychologist put it – would ratchet up with incidents that happened to people close to him, such as a friend who came home to find a thief stealing his smoker, and another friend who fended off a thief with a pocket knife. Even though 30 years had elapsed since he dropped out of the BGF, Chambers told Cunningham, the rift still seemed dangerous enough “that they might still put out a hit on me.”

Again at this point, the psychologist brought in the diagnosis: PTSD, with moderate to severe symptoms, severe impairment in functioning, and more, leading him to conclude, “if the shooting occurred as Cid Chambers described, I believe, to a reasonable psychological certainty, that Cid’s PTSD and the actions of (Travis Hood and friend Jamie Vause) could have caused Cid to believe that he was in (danger of death or serious harm).”

Next: How Chambers told Cunningham the night of the shooting unfolded:

He refilled a prescription at Bartell Drugs and went into Rocksport (which closed later that year to make way for development) to say hello to friends. Talking with them, he had a pint of beer in the 6-6:30 pm vicinity.

Then he went to Beveridge Place Pub and parked his BMW out front. Inside that bar, he “kibitzed” with friends, but doesn’t recall having a drink.

Finally, he went next door to Feedback Lounge, had a vodka martini, and was on his second one when his friend Pierre called. He “nursed” that drink until Pierre’s arrival at some point after 7. Pierre bought him a third drink and they talked; someone bought him a fourth vodka martini, fifth drink of the night overall, after that.

He recalled feeling “an urgency to get home, as he didn’t like the sense of helplessness (brought by) being under the influence in public.”

As Chambers left the Feedback, he told Cunningham, he became aware of two men making racial comments and slurs toward him. “They used ni–er in these comments” and said something like, “He’s walking upright, I wonder who taught him to walk upright like that, was it his mammy?”

Cunningham says Chambers told him he “could feel the hate running off their words.” Usually there would be people outside the bars smoking, but he did not see anyone, and so, he wanted to get to his car and “get out of there.” Cunningham said he described Hood and Vause as “two guys who had had too much to drink and were trying to provoke a fight,” but that he let their words roll off him “like water off a duck’s back” and he told himself he was going home. In hopes of putting some distance between himself and the two, he walked off the sidewalk, one car before his vehicle, walked up to his car, put the key in the lock, got in. When he was buckling his seat belt, the passenger door was yanked open, he told Cunningham, and “this guy looked like he was trying to come into the car.” He wondered what was going on, whether it was perhaps a robbery or carjacking attempt. Cunningham quoted Chambers as saying, “My mind was bouncing off, trying to figure out what was happening.”

When the door was yanked open, the psychologist said, the two men became “night crawlers” in Chambers’ mind – predators acting with criminal intent. He said the man standing in the open passenger door of his car reached into his waistband, “causing Cid to conclude the man was going to pull a knife,” said Cunningham. Somehow at that point, Chambers told Cunningham, he slammed the passenger door shut, then reached under the passenger seat for his gun, which he put in his waistband. Then he put the key in the BMW’s ignition and the car wouldn’t start; the ignition cylinder “started spinning.” At that point, he said, one of the two men was “banging on the rear of the car”; he said the doors wouldn’t lock, the electrical system wasn’t energized, and that led to a panicky feeling, as if Chambers were a “sitting duck” in an unlocked car with a man likely to come back with a knife.

At that point, the psychologist veered off into an explanation of the physiological response to stress – “fight or flight.”

Shortly thereafter, it was lunch-break time. Goldsmith picked up his questioning of Cunningham when court resumed in the afternoon. The physiological response to stress even made it difficult to concentrate and think of something that would seem to be as intuitive as calling 911, he explained.

Back to the night of the shooting: Chambers told Cunningham that he got out of his car and the man who had been “banging on” it moved out to the street. He tried to talk with the man, asking him what’s going on, who are you, while trying to determine what happened to the other man, the one he thought had a knife. The area was dark, so he started walking north on California from where his car was parked (outside Beveridge Place). He continued to question the man he could see, and said the responses were still “a bunch of ni–er stuff.” He told the psychologist he was frightened because he didn’t know where “the guy with the knife” was, and he thought the other man was deliberately trying to hold his attention, as if an ambush was in the works.

That’s when, the psychologist said Chambers told him, Hood “came at him” with a shovel, saying loudly, “Now I’m going to knock your ni–er head off.”

Cunningham said Chambers told him he had no doubt the man intended to carry out that threat, so: “That’s when I shot him.”

What happened after that, he said he didn’t recall – how many shots he fired, for example – next memory he had was of police knocking at the door of his home. He said he remembered feeling intoxicated then and not being aware of why police were there.

Cunningham said Sara Chambers described her husband as seeming “lethargic” when he arrived home that night, which she first thought had to do with alcohol, but later realized it was “shock.”

The psychologist pointed out that an SPD lieutenant interviewed by Goldsmith told the defense lawyer Chambers was not coherent at the time and that the lieutenant wasn’t sure whether that was out of intoxication, or shock, or “what else might have been going on.”

Cunningham suggested that was further evidence that PTSD affected Chambers’s judgment that night – not just context for why his gun was close at hand, but also for why “his behavior (was) not necessarily optimal,” why he didn’t call 911 or retreat in the face of danger; the disorder could lead to a “disorganized/immobilized” response, the psychologist said. And the high degree of stress, he added, could explain the absence of memory of the actual shooting and what happened immediately afterward: “Your memory is not a videotape. It’s not like a video camera is running and cataloging everything.” He explained “sensory memory” and how some memories, for various reasons, never go into “long-term storage.” Even short-term memory can be “degrade(d),” Cunningham said, by the effects of trauma, drugs, or alcohol. He went on to say scientific literature details “the occurrence of memory deficits for high-stress events, including homicide.”

Chambers did say, according to Cunningham, that he remembered the officers who came to his home telling him he had shot a man “four times in the chest,” and he remembered two men attacking him. He also said he recalled that after he was read his Miranda rights, he told the officers he didn’t want to make a statement. He recalled being questioned in a patrol car and at police headquarters downtown, and said he remembered an officer “making a threatening move toward him and telling (him) they were in control.” He told Cunningham he feared the interrogation tactics might escalate to physical violence, and that he thought the officers had no intention of playing by the rules. So he didn’t tell them everything he remembered because he didn’t trust them and thought they might “alter the facts or destroy evidence.”

(This was all to elaborate on why Chambers answered police’s questions evasively.)

Cunningham said Chambers’ distrust also went back to what he had heard about citizen complaints of “Seattle law enforcement misconduct … including the November 2008 Malika Calhoun incident.” (That was the nationally publicized case in which a King County sheriff’s deputy was shown on video, physically assaulting a teenage girl in a holding cell.)

Goldsmith’s questioning also led Cunningham to Chambers having been left alone in an interrogation room for hours, and apparently having to relieve himself on the floor or in a bottle because he had been unable to attract attention from anyone to come in and let him have a bathroom break. Discomfort/pain from handcuffs, as discussed earlier in the trial, also enhanced his sense of vulnerability. “I think these things had a cumulative effect, combined effect” on how Chambers responded to police after his arrest, said Cunningham, also observing that police telling him they knew about his alias and history was a “destabilizing communication.”

The final part of Goldsmith’s slide deck went back to Chambers’ everyday life in the community over the past two decades or so – release from prison in 1989, resumption of employment with the iron workers’ union, starting a construction company, then suffering a back injury from a car crash in 1998 and having two surgeries. He used the settlement from the crash to go back to school and get IT training. Cunningham also mentioned that Chambers had “middle-class friends, few, if any black,” that he stayed in touch with his mother and sister (out of state) by phone, and that he was not a heavy drinker – his wife told the psychologist that he usually had one to three beers a day, the “occasional” martini, and that she had only seen him drunk three or four times, but when he was, he tended to fall asleep.

Goldsmith’s questioning ended with a debrief of how much Cunningham charged – which segued into where the cross-examination by Nave began.

Cunningham said his work had totaled around 120 hours, more than $30,000 at his $300/hour rate, but he said others charged $400 to $750 per hour.

Punctuating the conclusion of direct questioning and the start of cross-examination was another outside-the-presence-of-the-jury discussion addressing points including a comment Dr. Cunningham had made that might have led the jury to believe that the prison-location changes were all part of a single sentence for a single crime, and Nave’s request to have the projection screen removed before cross-examination.

Goldsmith protested that Cunningham might want to refer back to his slides, the use of which had been previously challenged by the prosecution; Judge Doyle said she had concluded “You didn’t really need the PowerPoint – I gave you that; that was a gift,” in suggesting he shouldn’t push it further. So, the screen was removed before Nave began.

Under her questioning, Dr. Cunningham acknowledged he has earned his living with this type of work – evaluating defendants, almost always at the request of defense attorneys, and then potentially testifying about his findings – for more than a decade, and is “not currently treating patients as a clinical psychologist.” He is licensed in 23 states because his “practice is national in scope” and he usually handles “50 to 60 cases a year.” Asked for specifics about his income, he said his “gross billings” last year were $650,000-$700,000, of which he collected about $500,000; with a staff and office expenses, his “net income” resulting from that will likely total out on his tax return as “maybe a couple hundred thousand dollars.”

She then zeroed in on his billings so far in the case – as of March 17th, she read, “total charges, not including airfare, meals, hotels,” were $28,300. He said that would be the entirety of the bill minus maybe about 20 additional hours. While he said he was just billing for “professional time,” she pointed out instances in which he appeared to be billing just for picking up his luggage and going to his hotel.

Goldsmith argued this was irrelevant; the jury was dismissed for the day, and the two sides made their cases to Judge Doyle. Nave contended it was important for jurors to “understand how this works.” The judge said it could be considered relevant so far, but anything further along those lines would be a waste of the jury’s time, so when she resumes cross-examination on Monday morning, she needs to move on to her next point of inquiry.

Courtroom discussion, by the way, indicates the defense expects to rest by early next week.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE:

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)

1 Comment

  1. You gotta be shi**in me.

    Comment by Rick — 3:04 pm March 26, 2014 #

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