Bushaw murder trial: Medical details; defendant’s friend

By Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

In King County Superior Court Judge Joan DuBuque‘s courtroom, the trial of 2 men charged in the February 2009 murder of Steve Bushaw is on break until next Wednesday. Two witnesses testified Thursday morning before the jury was dismissed till then.

Once defendants Bryce Huber and Brandon Chaney were brought in and seated at the defense table with their attorneys, the jurors filed in – after the bailiff’s “all rise” command, giving the jury the same sign of respect as the judge – and took their seats. Then the first witness of the day took the stand: Assistant county medical examiner Pamela Ulmer, who was working at the King County Medical Examiner’s office during the time Steve Bushaw was murdered.

With his first questions, prosecutor Jeff Baird established her training and qualification, which included her degree in chemistry, a medical degree, having completed a pathology residency program and additional certification in forensic pathology. Ulmer said that the mandate of a medical examiner is to examine or look for the cause of death if it’s not “an attended natural death.” An autopsy entails looking at the cause of death – “was it a disease, accident, injury,” facilitating the categorization of different causes into a specific cause. This enables the medical examiner to specify which of the five classified manners of death a case should be ruled as: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, or undetermined.

Ulmer testified that she has previously been called to testify on medical evidence in other cases, and said that she has done so, in some of of those cases, without using photographs. (Although each autopsy is extensively photographed, today Baird submitted only two photos as evidence for the case – both were of the bullet recovered from Bushaw’s body.)

After discussing the evidence of “extensive medical intervention” Bushaw had received prior to his death, Ulmer answered questions as to the cause-of-death conclusions from the autopsy. One point made was that in shooting cases, a medical examiner documents only the direction of travel a projectile took in the body, and has no way to infer information as to whether the person had been standing, sitting, lying down, etc., when the injury occurred.

Using a large pad of paper displayed on an easel near the jury box, Ulmer drew an outline of a person and marked where the entrance and exit wounds were located. One gunshot wound, a “through and through” to the left thigh, traveling from back to the front, was not fatal. The other gunshot wound entered from the right side at about armpit level and traveled through the chest cavity. The projectile perforated the right upper lung lobe, continued and lacerated two of the veins leading to the heart. Ulmer said that the entrance wound showed that the victim’s right arm was not down at the side, because the bullet would have had to go through the arm, and that arm was not injured. As to the toxicology findings, Ulmer said they showed no blood-alcohol level, and that there was a positive test result showing marijuana had been used “sometime in the last several weeks, but not recently because it wasn’t in the bloodstream.”

While Bryce Huber’s defense attorney Anthony Savage had no questions for the witness, defense attorney James Roe, representing Brandon Chaney, asked questions that elicited testimony that x-rays had been done, and that besides the one bullet recovered, no other fragments of metal or foreign objects were seen in the body. Ulmer answered that no, Bushaw’s clothing was not used in any way to determine trajectory of projectiles that caused the injuries. She referred to the illustrations she had drawn and reiterated that medical examiners technically cannot determine the level of the gun used at the time of shooting. “If we had a video recording showing the process of the shooting; otherwise, it’s difficult to determine.”

Next up was a young woman who knew Bryce Huber and who had met him downtown late at night on the same night Steve Bushaw was shot, and returned with him to his condominium by the Northgate Mall.

Joy was sworn in and her answers to Baird’s questions made clear how she knew Huber (her girlfriend Stephanie had rented and lived in Huber’s condo while he’d lived out of state, so she visited there frequently). Once Bryce moved back into the 2-bedroom condo while Stephanie continued to live there, Joy continued to visit and “cooked a lot, played video games, watched basketball games, football games.” Saying that she “didn’t know him really well, but we were friendly,” she recalled her cell phone number at the time, and that she knew Huber’s phone number and they had communicated by phone in the past.

The defense raised objections about the witness testifying as to what someone else had said to her, but Judge DuBuque allowed the witness to testify; at one point during the testimony Savage objected to Baird asking “leading questions,” and the jury was removed while that was discussed. The judge instructed Baird to take great care in how he phrased his questions to the witness, then the jury was brought back to the courtroom.

Joy testified that after Christmas 2008 but before the Super Bowl on February 1st, 2009, Huber had told her that something had happened to one of his friends. “One of his best friends had been hurt, or killed; I remember him saying. I remember him being upset about it, or sad,” and that “I had asked him if they’d caught the person who hurt or killed him, and he said no.” Baird asked, “Did they know who had done it?” Joy said that Huber said “that they didn’t know, but he knew.”

On Super Bowl Sunday, Joy watched the game at a bar in the University District, then with another friend, drove her car to a different bar on Capitol Hill, and called and texted Huber to see if she could crash at his condo rather than driving home to Arlington, where she was living at the time. He texted her back saying yes, but that he couldn’t give her a ride because he didn’t have his car. She picked him up on Denny Way downtown and he drove her car back to the condo. Noticing that Huber seemed unusually stressed out and anxious, she tried to converse with him but that he seemed “focused on something else, wasn’t talking as much.” As he drove, he parried her questions with things like “I’m not sure what to do. I don’t know what to do. Gimme a second.” He didn’t tell her why he didn’t have his car, or how he’d gotten to downtown Seattle where she picked him up.

She said that once back at the condo building, instead of the usual assigned parking slot, Huber “drove around to the back side of the condos and sat there a while,” and “he said he just wanted to wait and watch, and some people might be after him.” She thought that it was from a “fight situation or something.” After about 15 minutes, he drove around and parked in his parking space. Once they were inside the condo, Joy continued, Huber still seemed anxious and worried, and she asked him frequently what was going on. “Later he did tell me something. He said that, in regards to, you know, he said the friend who had been hurt, that he and his friends had taken care of him. I said, what? He said that they had ‘shot him’ but that he didn’t die.”

Baird: “Did he say anything else about what happened that night?” “No, just that he and his friends had shot someone and he hadn’t died. It stressed me out, you know, that one of your friends would be involved in something like that.” After that night, Joy said, Huber tried to contact her via phone calls and text messages, which she ignored. Weeks later, she said, she texted him, telling him “lose my number.”

Defense attorneys Roe and Savage each had questions for the witness. Roe asked if she recalled some things she had told Detective Cooper during her interview when contacted by the police; clarified how and with whom she’d driven from Northgate to downtown, and downtown to the condo, and her estimation of the drive time to condo from downtown: “About 8 to 10 minutes.”

“Would it be fair to say your memory of this evening is really quite vague?” Savage asked, to which Joy replied “I’d say it’s vague in the sense that it was a couple of years ago, but I still remember the details that I’m talking about.” Savage pointed out that she didn’t talk to the police until they contacted her in October 2009. She conceded that the police “called me multiple times, and came to the house that I was living at,” and then she gave them an interview while sitting in a car, and spoke with Detective Cooper. Referring to a written transcript of her original interview, Savage continued: “And at that time, the best you could remember was this all happened ‘around Super Bowl time’. Do you remember Detective Cooper saying, or asking you, that ‘and when we talked about this incident, at first, you couldn’t recall when it was,'”? Joy insisted that recalling details of the night – such as seeing someone burning a Steelers’ jersey in a parking lot – was a reference point.

On the afternoon and evening in question, Savage asked whether she’d had anything to eat, and per her stated timeline of arriving late to watch the game, “say, 4:30, and then you went from one bar to another bar, and then you met Huber after midnight, that’s about seven hours of straight drinking, isn’t it?” “Not really, it was more like, I watched the game, and then started drinking after the game was over.”

Referring again to a transcript, Savage asked her, “On the way home, Huber was ‘excited, stressed out,’ all of this?” “Yes.” “He was concerned somebody was out for him, according to him; this was all because of some friend of his that had been hurt or killed earlier?” “Yes.” After asking her how she was sure that Huber’s car wasn’t at the condo, she said it had not been, because they parked her car in his assigned space. She did not know where his car was at the time, and concedes it could have been parked elsewhere nearby on the street. His last question for her was, as she had said in her interview that Huber was “panicking, freaking out, rambling,” had she taken any drugs that evening? “No.” “Ecstasy?” “No.”

WSB coverage of this trial is archived, newest to oldest, here.

Baird rose to ask Joy one last question: “When Huber talked about someone being shot, the night of the Super Bowl, did he describe that person as a friend?” “No.”

2 Replies to "Bushaw murder trial: Medical details; defendant's friend"

  • mookie August 12, 2011 (11:45 am)

    It sounds like Huber wanted to avenge his friend who had his home broken into and getting beaten; I still don’t understand WHY he thought Steve directed it. So, so tragic.

  • Big Red August 12, 2011 (2:58 pm)

    Per Sylve during his testimony: “The (home-invasion) break-in … there were women and children present … it just wasn’t right.”
    And committing murder in public does not run the risk of women or children being present?? How is that right?? It blows my mind that these men were able to justify their actions when what they did is far more disgusting and violent than they act for which they were retaliating against. So very sad.

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