Steve Bushaw murder trial: The prosecution’s final witness

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The fourth week of testimony in the first West Seattle murder case to go to trial in three years begins Monday morning. Week #3 concluded Thursday with the final witness prosecutor Jeff Baird had said he would call, Det. James Cooper (who had briefly been on the stand a week earlier).

This daylong stint on the stand painted the picture of how police developed their case, with tools including cell-phone records and Facebook friend lists, over the course of more than half a year following the deadly shooting of Steve Bushaw (right) in the middle of California SW in The Junction on Super Bowl Sunday night 2009.

Questions from Baird led Det. Cooper all the way back to the moment he got the call about the shooting, 12:35 am on February 2, 2009; as his partner Det. Paul Takimoto had explained in earlier testimony, Seattle Police Homicide Unit detectives work in teams, and they go through a rotation so that when there’s an incident, whichever team is “next up” gets the call.

Arriving at the scene, he said he approached CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) Sgt. Mike Hay: “I usually want to approach a supervisor – homicide scenes are chaotic at the start, but usually supervisors have some kind of a summary they can give you.”

He said Sgt. Hay showed him the street in front of Talarico’s, where the deadly shots had been fired, and where shell casings were found in the street. (Editor’s note: The following photo was taken that night by Christopher Boffoli, who covered the shooting scene for WSB.)

Det. Cooper said Sgt. Hay also had shown him the breezeway by Puerto Vallarta across the street, where there were “items on the ground” and the area was taped off, as was the shooting scene itself.

At the scene, he said, he talked to two of the civilian witnesses who had testified earlier in the trial, Tony and Jay. He also noted that the victim’s car was parked “on the edge of the crime scene,” in front of Poggie Tavern, in an area that also had been taped off. Jay identified himself as Steve Bushaw’s best friend, and had his car keys.

Hearing about a possible suspect falling down (one of the two self-confessed shooters, John Sylve, had testified that happened to him), Detective Cooper said he and Det. Kevin O’Keefe (who also has testified in the trial) checked that scene, and he asked the other detective for forensics on the area.

Then, Det. Cooper continued, he worked to track down the victim’s cell phone. “Just from experience and training, regarding victims and their cell phones, you never know what you are going to find, the last person they talked to, the last person they were visiting, contact numbers, addresses, things of that nature that can provide witnesses to the event that occurred.”

He then talked about discovering that the family had taken possession of their son’s cell phone, and overhearing his partner getting a phone number from the Bushaws, retrieved off Steve’s phone (Det. Takimoto’s viewpoint of the story was told on the stand earlier – it was defendant Bryce Huber‘s number).

Det. Cooper mentioned attending the autopsy: “Usually you can get some kind of evidence. Everybody thinking about autopsies usually thinks, so gross, but it’s fascinating – not just a chop shop; they’re performing a process of looking at a body. From the evidence recovered, you can see what kind of injuries were suffered, what was the cause of death – in this case, they recovered a bullet.”

However, he acknowledged, the “murder weapon” was never found.

Back to how he worked to figure out Huber’s relationship to the case: Det. Cooper talked about trying to contact him, starting with a phone call at 12:32 pm on February 2nd, 2009, the afternoon after the shooting, that went straight to voice mail. His message did not lead to a callback. He tried again two hours later, and two more times after that, but the phone was no longer accepting messages, he said, and when he tried yet again at 5:35 pm, the phone was no longer taking incoming calls.

Someone he did meet with that evening was the victim of the home-invasion robbery which prosecutors say played into the murder motive. He had come onto the detectives’ radar when a robbery detective who worked in the Violent Crimes Section of SPD overheard them mentioning Steve Bushaw’s name, and said that was a name someone had mentioned as he investigated the home-invasion robbery. Det. Cooper said Huber’s name was mentioned by the home-invasion victim when they talked with him at their office around 6 pm on February 2nd. The robbery victim said he “wanted to assist us in any way possible to solve this murder” and said he had been friends with Huber for 10 years. However, Det. Cooper said, the robbery victim refused their requests for him to call Huber, allegedly saying, “I don’t want to bother him, I don’t want to be involved.”

From there, they found an address for Huber, went there, found no lights on, nobody home, no sign of the vehicle that public records showed was his last known vehicle. Det. Cooper reiterated that at that point, all they knew was that Huber was a friend of Steve Bushaw and someone he was going to go see at 11:30 the night of the murder, “for a beer.”

The next day, they asked for surveillance at Huber’s house, which he said was provided by members of the North Precinct Anti-Crime Team, since they weren’t tied up with anything else.

Baird brought in cell-phone records at that point, showing that on February 2nd, Huber’s phone was bouncing off sites along I-90 east of the Cascades, including Cle Elum and Union Gap, and then Pasco in the Tri-Cities (which is where his ex-girlfriend Stephanie had previously testified he visited her that day).

Det. Cooper talked about speaking with the witness who had talked about seeing a man near the murder scene who resembled pro-basketball player Kevin Garnett, apparently a reference to another man in the case whose name we are not using as he has not been charged. He said that witness identified that man out of a photo montage.

Finally, the detective said, they first spoke to Huber on February 9th, more than a week after the murder. He was spotted at his Northgate condo; when he left, they arranged for him to be pulled over because he was in the system as driving with a suspended license, plus his vehicle tabs were more than two months expired. They took him in for questioning. According to Det. Cooper, “(Huber) said, ‘I know what this is about – this is regarding my co-worker getting killed.’ I said, ‘Do you mean your friend Steve Bushaw?’ His response was, ‘We’re not friends, he’s just a co-worker.’ When he said that, I was caught off guard – I found that to be a weird response, to everything I had learned to this point. I made a point to refer to Mr. Bushaw as his friend several times. He corrected me each time, ‘We’re just co-workers, not friends.'”

Huber told police he knew they wanted to talk to him, according to Det. Cooper, and told them the home-invasion-robbery victim had told him that. “I asked if he knew that, why didn’t he come talk to us? He said he was scared. I tried to get him to open up on that topic, he would not,” but he claimed he had been at his Northgate residence over the past week, and did not mention having taken a trip.

The detective said Huber told them they were making him feel like a suspect, but “I said as far as we’re concerned, you’re a witness. He asked why. That’s when I told him, I have information that you were the last person to be seen with Mr. Bushaw before he was killed. … In our interview room, we have a table. With both hands, he pushed away from the table and said, ‘That’s news to me’.”

Huber’s wallet was seized when he was taken into custody; Cooper said the items inside it included $1,000 in 100-dollar bills and a “clipping from the Seattle P-I website, the 911 blog, and on the back side of that, directions to someplace in Eastern Washington.” The clipping was about the home-invasion robbery that included an assault on Huber’s friend and the friend’s roommate – defendant Brandon Chaney – on January 19th, less than two weeks before the shooting.

The detective also testified about tracking down an airport-shuttle passenger list with John Sylve’s name on it, with the evidence that led him there including a number obtained through phone records from the home-invasion victim and Chaney. He said records also included the number for the Idaho phone belonging to Cara, the friend of Huber’s who had testified early in the trial.

He said he then found Cara on Facebook, and looked at her friends list. There he found Bryce Huber, and he found her on his friends list as well. Subsequently, he wrote search warrants for a variety of phone numbers, including one that turned out to be a pay-as-you-go phone, “activated on Super Bowl Sunday at 5:13 pm – just before the shuttle [that John Sylve took] left Yakima.” At that moment, he testified, a call from that phone, hitting a cell site in Yakima, was made to the home-invasion-robbery victim’s phone.

When testimony resumed after the Thursday lunch break, Det. Cooper was asked further about cell records, and search warrants he sought to get access to them. He talked about the time frame of the home-invasion robbery, 9:30-10:30 pm on January 19th, 2009. Robbery Det. McGann had been told that the robbers were “constantly on the phone with someone while robbing (the primary victim) and Chaney,” Det. Cooper said, adding that he was “curious to see” if Steve Bushaw was somehow involved.

Baird asked what Bushaw’s cell-phone records showed for that time. “He did not receive any incoming calls; he made approximately six outgoing calls, to six different numbers.” Three of the numbers, Det. Cooper said, he was able to identify as friends of Steve Bushaw, none of whom have testified in this trial. The other three, he said, belonged to persons unknown.

Continuing to work on the murder case, he went to Idaho to speak with Huber’s friend Cara. He said she gave police a 619 (San Diego) number for him, and also a phone number for Jennifer, who had gone to Talarico’s with Cara and Huber the night of the shooting.

As the investigation proceeded, Det. Cooper testified, they talked to Brandon Chaney on May 13, 2009, telling him “we were investigating something that happened on Super Bowl Sunday night.” He said Chaney told police he wasn’t in West Seattle that night, that he and his friend (the “other person” we’re not naming) and his cousin Danny “D-Bo” O’Neal – the other confessed shooter – watched the football game at O’Neal’s Renton apartment, eating and drinking (alcohol), and didn’t leave until the game was over. The detective said he showed Chaney a photo of John Sylve, and that he said “that’s his friend Nik” (Sylve’s middle name is Nikimbe), but that Chaney said he hadn’t seen Sylve on the night of the shooting. Det. Cooper said he had used a “ruse” to “test the veracity of” Chaney’s story, saying “‘What if I told you I have you on security footage driving to Sea-Tac Airport and meeting with Mr. Sylve?’ … At that point, he changed his mind and said, ‘well, that could have happened’.”

Det. Cooper testified that he also asked Chaney about the home-invasion robbery, and that he acknowledged having been “assaulted”; asked whether he had talked to the other victim and Huber about who was to blame, and whether the name “Steve” came up, he said Chaney acknowledged “it could have,” but when asked who he thought might have been responsible, he named someone else, an ex-roommate.

According to the detective, Chaney “never asked why he was being questioned, so I asked if he knew why, he said he did, he said it was about the murder that happened in West Seattle. He said he talked to (the home-invasion-robbery victim) a couple days after the Super Bowl, and (that man) said the suspect in the robbery was the victim in the murder. I said, we never told anyone that the victim in the murder was a suspect in any robbery, and he said, ‘well, that’s what (home-invasion victim) told me’.”

A few more months, and a few more interviews with others, including Huber’s ex-girlfriend Stephanie, later, a decision was made to file charges, “and we started planning the arrests,” Det. Cooper testified. “Our plan was to take Mr. Sylve into custody first, since he was in a different time zone [in Texas] … By the end of the day, December 1st, 2009, all four were in custody.”

Chaney’s lawyer Jim Roe started his questioning there. He asked if detectives had ever visited the convenience store (California/Erskine 7-11) that had been mentioned earlier in the trial; Det. Cooper said they had not. He also asked some technical details about the phone records, and about what was believed to have happened earlier the night of the shooting, such as a call from Sylve’s phone to the home-invasion-robbery victim’s phone in the 10 pm hour. The detective acknowledged they had not asked Sylve what mobile phone he had used before activating a pay-as-you-go phone on the airport shuttle that day. Roe also asked him if police had determined “there was some marijuana at Bushaw’s house” and that his parents had said they were unaware of it.

Huber’s lawyer Tony Savage asked Det. Cooper if Huber had said he was scared because he got a call from the home-invasion-robbery victim. No, the detective replied, “he just said he was scared.” Savage noted that the robbery victim’s phone called Huber’s phone about two hours after Huber had met with the detectives. Then Savage called attention to the printed-out news story found in Huber’s wallet, and got Det. Cooper to acknowledge he had mistakenly identified the story, in a document he had signed, as being about the murder, instead of about the home invasion.

More questioning about phone records ensued, from Baird and Roe as well, before all three lawyers finally said they had no further questions for Detective Cooper, and court was adjourned for the week.

Roe had said he expects to call his client Chaney to testify, and that could happen on Monday. Savage said last week that he does not expect his client Huber to take the stand.

WSB trial coverage is archived here, newest to oldest.

13 Replies to "Steve Bushaw murder trial: The prosecution's final witness"

  • mookie August 21, 2011 (10:44 pm)

    Gratitude for such persistent work from the detectives and others on the SPD, helping reveal the web of connections. I can only imagine going through gazillions of phone call records to sift out the relevant links was not easy.
    The “well, I was scared” is such typical b.s. – it means, I lied, I didn’t tell you this or that, I swear I wasn’t there, because I’m scared I’m going to get caught, and I know I should get caught.
    Nice play by Det. Cooper on the SeaTac security cam footage ruse; the only luck in this sad scenario is that the “players” on trial fall pitifully short of being any sort of brain trust. Heartbreak for the victim’s family, and a depressing kind of job security for detectives.

  • Anonymous August 21, 2011 (11:41 pm)

    If the defendants cases start tomorrow, who are they calling as witnesses besides Brandon Chaney?

    • WSB August 22, 2011 (12:20 am)

      Chaney’s lawyer mentioned a woman who the original charging documents identify as Chaney’s girlfriend. Not sure about the prosecution. There was a potential witness list filed early in the trial but it’s not broken down by who’s who and who’s testifying for whom. – TR

  • Lfauntleroy August 22, 2011 (7:55 am)

    What a bumbling bunch of thugs. The more I read about these defendants the worse it gets.

  • kmn August 22, 2011 (8:01 am)

    Thank you for the update. It’s so nice to see such thourough investigative work from the SPD. I have Steve’s family in my prayers. His little niece and my son are in school together. My heart breaks for the Bushaw family.

  • Curious George August 22, 2011 (8:50 am)

    Who is on the stand this morning, do you know?

    • WSB August 22, 2011 (9:23 am)

      CG, I’m in court now. Prosecution has officially rested (before anything else happened in today’s proceeding). Lawyers are arguing a few motions outside the jury’s presence. Don’t know who’s testifying once all this is argued – TR

      • WSB August 22, 2011 (9:33 am)

        Update – Chaney taking the stand now (9:32 am).

  • Kate K August 22, 2011 (9:00 am)

    I appreciate WSB’s in depth coverage of this case and SPD’s fine work investigating this murder.

  • Curious George August 22, 2011 (9:25 am)

    WSB: Thank you for the update!

  • alkigirl August 22, 2011 (9:53 am)

    my thoughts and prayers go out to maggie, ronnie, tanya and lil’ ava…..xoxoxoxo <3 to you maggie mae. stay strong. stevie is with you and these bumbling fools will be found out. "vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord"

  • Anonymous August 22, 2011 (11:56 am)

    Are you able to give a quick lunch break update? Thanks

    • WSB August 22, 2011 (12:17 pm)

      Yes, I plan to type something up before court resumes in about an hour fifteen, have to catch up with the rest of the site first! Chaney still on stand. No indication of what/who might follow. – TR

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