Opening statements, first witnesses in Steve Bushaw murder trial

EDITOR’S NOTE: The trial of Bryce Huber and Brandon Chaney, charged with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Steve Bushaw, is the first West Seattle murder case to go to trial in three years. We covered the last one gavel-to-gavel and intend to do the same here. After two weeks of motions, logistics, and jury selection, the prosecution and defense both presented their opening statements today, and then the prosecution began calling witnesses. Our story tonight covers the opening statements, with witness notes to come.

By Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

Veteran prosecutor Jeffrey Baird delivered the first opening statement. He began by noting the date of the deadly shooting:

“February 1st, 2009. Sunday. It was Super Bowl Sunday, the Steelers played the Cardinals, and millions watched. Two and a half years ago, after the Super Bowl, something happened in our community that was witnessed by only a few people. A young man was shot to death. The young man’s name was Steve Bushaw. He was raised in West Seattle, he’d gone to West Seattle High School. At the time of his death, he was still living with his parents in West Seattle. And he was shot to death right in the heart of West Seattle, in what locals call ‘The Junction” …

“Mr. Bushaw’s death was not an accident – he was not hit by a stray round. He was gunned down in the middle of the street, not by one but two men, both firing repeatedly at him from close range. This was not a case of self-defense. He was not armed, and did nothing to provoke them. He had never met them. This was not case of sudden rage. He’d done nothing to provoke it. It wasn’t a case of mistaken identity. He was deliberately targeted, with considerable planning and forethought.”

Baird then told the jury what sort of evidence they would be presented with, and how he believes it will tell the story, step by step.

The only forensic evidence, Baird says, is telephone records, but he contends that those reveal a web of connections, the timing of calls, who was speaking to each other and where they were in the days leading up to, during, and after the shooting. He described the different people involved – some defendants, some witnesses – as well as the home-invasion robbery that stirred the suspicions that ultimately ended in murder.

Veteran defense attorneys Anthony Savage (for Huber) and Jim Roe (for Chaney) made opening statements that counseled the jurors to interpret evidence for themselves, not solely on how the prosecution seems to think it fits together; in keeping an open mind, the lawyers contended, they will see how both the actual triggermen, Danny O’Neal and John Sylve (both of whom have pleaded guilty), and others involved but not (yet) charged were the driving force in causing the death of Steve Bushaw. At one point, Roe referred to John Sylve, who’d flown in to town that day and who was leaving the next day, as “that John Sylve, the guy that’s new in town, the High Plains Drifter, had shown up to take revenge – unknown to Chaney: “My client is just a barber, and he’s being portrayed by the state as some kind of mastermind.”

Savage referred to prosecutor Baird as “a distinguished fellow, but they (the prosecution) do tend to draw a circle around people and say, “we have this, this this this,” but it’s our (the defense’s) job to say, ‘but there are different ways to look at evidence, and, you didn’t tell them about this, this and this.'” Savage posited that Sylve, who’d received what he called a “deal” from the state of a lesser charge for agreeing to testify against Huber and Chaney, as someone whose veracity should be looked at critically. Savage, like Roe, said he believes he can show that others known but not yet charged are the ones that drove the planning and the execution of Bushaw, which would create reasonable doubt about the guilt of his client Huber.

Back to the date-evoking theme, here’s how Baird’s opening statement concluded:

“February 1st, 2009, millions watched the Super Bowl. One team won, one team lost. In our community, a few people saw this shooting, a few people tried to stop the bleeding, doctors tried to save Steve Bushaw. He lost his life. Did Chaney or Huber win? It might have seemed like that at first, in their relief when Mr. Bushaw died, but the evidence will show this was – like so many murders, a senseless murder, a stupid one – and despite their best efforts to cover their tracks, despite their best efforts to orchestrate this murder and distance themselves from it, these two young men are guilty of murder in the first degree. No one won that night.”

Witnesses included the victim’s mother; we’ll add key points from today’s testimony to this story by morning.

(added 6:42 am) The first witness was Margaret Bushaw, Steve Bushaw’s mother. The prosecutor asked her about where she lived, with whom, how far away her home was from Talarico’s-and about the night she last saw her son Steve alive. Baird showed her a large photo of Steve Bushaw, asking her to identify the photo, and she became tearful. “Did your son Steven live with you the whole time he was growing up?” “Yes, 26 years, his whole life.”

“When was the last time you saw your son?”

“On Super Bowl Sunday. 2009. I was in my rec room with my husband. Stevie had been at a Super Bowl party.”

“Did you see him when he got home?”

“Yes, he got home about 8:30 or 9; he told us all about the party and how much fun he’d had, we read the Sunday paper, he ate our leftovers from our dinner that night. He was home from about 8:45 to ten to 11. He received a phone call, and he left the rec room and into the kitchen to talk on the phone. About 10 after 11, he yells out ‘Bye, Mom and Dad, I’m going to go have a beer with Bryce in The Junction. I love you.’ And we told him we love him too, and to be careful. And that’s the last time we saw him alive.” She cried softly. “I just told him that every time he left: ‘be careful.’ These days you have to tell your children to be careful.”

Baird asked her about when they learned Steve had been shot, the aftermath, and when the police had contacted her to review Steve’s cell phone: “When we arrived at Harborview, did you get see your son?” “No, they told us the social workers would be there to talk to us. They told us that Stevie didn’t make it. That it had gone through his lungs and he didn’t make it.” Did the name ‘Bryce’ mean anything to you?” “No, I’d never heard of it.” “When you left Harborview, did they give you anything to take with you?” “No. I couldn’t even touch my son, because he was ‘evidence’.”

“Do you remember if police came and looked at Steve’s cellphone soon?” “I think it was Monday morning when they came to look at the phone.”

Defense attorneys Roe and Savage questioned Ms. Bushaw about exactly when her son left their home, how far it was from their home to Talarico’s, and whether she knew if Steve had ever been to Talarico’s before.

Savage: “Had you ever met a man by the name of Bryce Huber?” “No.” “Had Mr. Huber ever been in your home?” “No.”

The next witness, West Seattle resident Jay Sherwood, testified that he had known Steve Bushaw since childhood; how they’d grown up living about 4 blocks apart. He last saw Steve Bushaw a couple days before the shooting, and said that Steve had seemed in good spirits. “When did you first hear he’d been shot?” “He was still at the bar and had been shot, someone called me, someone who was a friend of ours. I called Steve’s cell and there was no answer.”

After going to Harborview Medical Center and learning that Steve had died, Sherwood spoke to how he had returned to the crime scene:.”After that we went to get his car at the crime scene; I believe the detectives told us where it was. His car was parked right across the street from the bar where he was shot, one business down, across the street.” Savage: “At the scene, do I understand you to say you were asked about Bryce Huber? “I was asked about my relationship with Steve, and they brought up Bryce, who he’d been with.” “So you’re saying the police asked you about Bryce that night?” “Yes.”

The longest questioning of a witness by both the prosecution and defense occurred with the third and last witness for the day. Kara, who lives in Idaho, was in Seattle visiting her friend Jennifer. She had been acquainted with Bryce Huber for “three or four years” and, after a Super Bowl party, the two young women met up with him, and they decided to go together to continue the evening. She testified that Huber had suggested going for pizza in West Seattle, even though it was “quite a drive” from Huber’s home up in North Seattle.

The questions led through the trip, including how Bryce Huber drove not his own car but Jennifer’s, and asked to use Kara’s cell phone, saying his cell phone could only receive calls, not call out, and that he made several phone calls on her phone ’(to whom, she didn’t know) and all she heard of his side of the conversations was about meeting up at Talarico’s. Prosecutor Baird clarified that she did not know Steve Bushaw, and in court when shown his photograph, she conceded the person in the photo could be the man who met them at Talarico’s – even when the person met them at Talarico’s, she said he was only there for maybe 5 or 10 minutes before Bryce said the two men were going outside to smoke a cigarette.

Shortly after that, a “ruckus” occured outside the front of the bar, she learned there had been a shooting, and when Huber didn’t return, she stated that she and Jennifer, since they had been drinking, called a cab to get back to Jennifer’s home in downtown Seattle. Repeated questioning about how it was they didn’t look for Huber outside, how he had the car keys, how and when Jennifer got her car back, and what if anything Huber said the next day when they saw him again downtown didn’t clear much up, other than it all seemed to make sense to Kara and that much of it, she didn’t recall. Baird brought up her statement to SPD Detective Cooper from three months after the shooting, and went over her previous answers as to how long they had been at the bar before the shooting happened, how long the “4th man” had sat at the booth with them before going outside with Huber, and if she had ever met Steve Bushaw or Brandon Chaney before – she had not, the implication being she had no reason to call either of those men from her cell phone, so whomever was making calls from her cell phone the evening of the shooting did in fact know them.

Court resumes at 9 am Wednesday; as outlined by Judge Joan DuBuque, most weeks, it will be in sessions Mondays-Thursdays, 9 am-4 pm with breaks, as she usually has a calendar of other cases on Fridays, but once the jurors begin to deliberate, they’ll work on Fridays if needed.

8 Replies to "Opening statements, first witnesses in Steve Bushaw murder trial"

  • Jeannie Wyatt August 3, 2011 (10:37 am)

    Thank You so much for covering this and giving
    details of what is happening in this trial. I’m
    Steven’s Aunt living in Skagit County, not able
    to be at the trial everyday and I feel like
    I was there from reading your article. I talk
    with my sister (Steven’s mom) just about everyday
    and we both want to thank you for your consideration. Again thank you.

  • bsmomma August 3, 2011 (1:40 pm)

    Wow. That was a very well written story….. I wish it didn’t have to be written though.

  • curious george August 3, 2011 (7:33 pm)

    Does anyone understand why two very involved men in this case have not been charged? One who was in the car with the gunmen, in route to do this heinous killing? What about the person who was long time friends with John Sylve, the cold-blooded gunman/killer of the 26 year old Steve Bushaw and for whom this killing supposedly was in revenge for the robbery/home invasion/beating him up? Will either of them be testifying in this case?

    • WSB August 3, 2011 (7:45 pm)

      It’s a long witness list. Some of the names I recognize from the charging documents are scheduled to testify. Meantime, our report on today’s testimony is coming up later this evening – TR

  • Larry Bernandez August 3, 2011 (9:09 pm)

    thanks for your great coverage WSB. As a friend of Steve it is hard reading and hearing what is going on in this trial. It brings back the pain and memories associated with that horrible night. Having said this, I really appreciate your commitment to covering this case and keeping the people informed as to what is going on. It has taken a long time but it is nice to see the justice system at work. No amount of prison time will be enough to avenge the killing of Steve but I will take solace in knowing the people responsible will live a horrible life in cages where they belong. Curious george, I like where your head is at. I have been wondering the same thing. The only thing I can think of is that they just don’t have enough evidence to get a conviction on these other idiots who were more than likely involved. R.I.P. Steve. We love you and you will always be with us.

  • curious george August 3, 2011 (10:37 pm)

    WSB: Do you know the names of the witnesses slated to testify tomorrow are? Thank you!

    • WSB August 3, 2011 (10:41 pm)

      I’m still editing our reporter’s story, haven’t gotten that far yet …

  • wsresident August 3, 2011 (11:13 pm)

    Curious George….I’ve heard it is 2 more crime scene investigators and John Sylve, one of the shooters who has already pled guilty earlier this year.

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