Continuing our coverage of the murder trial in the February 2009 West Seattle shooting death of Steve Bushaw: Court is now in recess till 9 am Monday. That originally was projected as the date testimony would begin, but this case hasn’t even gotten to jury selection yet, because of an ongoing series of twists and turns among the four original defendants. Two of them have pleaded guilty in the past two weeks, but one of them may withdraw that plea when court resumes Monday. Details ahead:
First, in case you are just stumbling onto this for the first time – Nine months after the killing, four people were charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder. The motive: Retaliation because of a belief that Bushaw was involved with a home-invasion robbery a few weeks earlier, involving someone from whom he bought marijuana to resell (police have said they had no evidence he actually was involved) – we transcribed the narrative from the original charges here.
Toplines from notes on today’s proceedings, covered for WSB by Katie Meyer:
*As first mentioned in court Tuesday, the statement given by the first defendant to plead guilty, alleged triggerman Danny O’Neal, reportedly conflicts with the one given by the second defendant to plead guilty, the other alleged triggerman, John Sylve. Prosecutors suggested that means they are no longer bound by terms of the plea agreement with O’Neal, including their promise to recommend the low end of the sentencing range (about 10 years, plus 5 years for the weapons enhancement), so that’s why it’s expected he might want to consider withdrawing the plea and going to trial. O’Neal’s lawyer Walter Peel is expected to announce his decision when court resumes next Monday.
*There was no indication the currently remaining two defendants, Bryce Huber and Brandon Chaney, are going to opt against going to trial, although prosecutor James Konat declared at one point today, “The further we go on, the more I feel that Mr. Chaney is going to end up in this trial all by himself. There is one last thing (a defense lawyer) said, that conspiracy is alive and well, and I have amended trial memorandum, and the conspiracy is indeed alive and well. Mr. Chaney needs to understand, when we go to trial, we’re not going under Murder 2, we’re going on conspiracy to commit Murder in 1st degree, and murder in 1st with firearm enhancement.” Chaney’s lawyer, meantime, said he had felt the case was close to resolution for everyone – until Sylve’s plea and the prosecution’s response to it.
*Assuming it does go to trial, 230 potential jurors are in the pool, according to what was said in court today, which Judge Joan DuBuque deemed acceptable. She had concern because they had summoned what she termed a “special panel” – what “special” meant, was not elaborated on – and wondered if they would still be available, the longer the pre-jury-selection proceedings dragged on. For now, they’re tentatively looking at asking the jurors to be available starting next Thursday (January 27th).
*Though defense lawyers suggested that a trial with two defendants would be noticeably shorter than a trial with four – perhaps around a month – prosecutor James Konat disagreed, saying the cell-phone evidence to be presented will take weeks all by itself, since they’ll still need to how where all four of the original defendants were, and when, given the nature of the alleged plot, so in his view the trial would last for months. And he noted that if it lasts, say, into May, a conflict is approaching, as he is involved with the case against Isaiah Kalebu, the accused South Park murderer-rapist recently found competent to stand trial.
*In order to be ready for trial, given the latest developments and ex-defendants’ statements, defense lawyers say they need to do some additional interviews to be sure they’re ready for trial – so many stories now seem to digress. Chaney’s lawyer said he’d like to have at least a month to do those interviews. Prosecutor Konat disagreed with the scope of those interviews, saying that some of the people mentioned would only be providing inadmissible hearsay. Huber’s lawyer said he needed to talk to more people now that Sylve’s statement meant there was more than “circumstantial evidence” against his client. “I cannot represent my client with the dramatic changes in this case as of last week.” He also indicated he has experts analyzing cell-phone data that’s being subpoenaed.
*One main reason for recessing court till Monday – to get transcriptions of O’Neal and Sylve’s statements. Those are part of a package of documents that key parties were to be reviewing between now and then.