Steve Bushaw murder trial: Confessed killer testifies

By Katie Meyer
Reporting for West Seattle Blog

The King County Superior Court trial of Bryce Huber and Brandon Chaney, charged with first-degree murder in the February 2009 shooting death of lifelong West Seattleite Steve Bushaw, is in recess until Monday.

In the jury trial that could take as long as a month, three main witnesses were on the stand Thursday, including one of the admitted triggermen, John Sylve. But first:

Today’s proceedings began with a resumption of testimony from Detective Kevin O’Keefe of the Seattle Police Department’s Crime Scene Investigation Unit. Next, the state called Seattle Police Detective Mike Magan to the stand. Magan was the detective assigned to investigate a home-invasion robbery in Seattle – the aftermath of that robbery is alleged to have helped precipitate the murder.) Then, Sylve followed.

O’Keefe – questioned mainly by prosecutor Jeff Baird – narrated a series of crime-scene photographs and pointed out (on large diagram exhibits) specific street and building locations as each was discussed. Noting an area that had been dusted with fingerprint powder, at the eastern entrance of the breezeway (which goes west between two businesses toward an alley and parking lot near the murder scene outside Talarico’s in the West Seattle Junction), it had been dusted for prints because a witness told O’Keefe that one shooting suspect may have fallen down by the breezeway while leaving the scene; prints obtained were submitted for analysis, but per the lab report “they were not identified anywhere. Not connected to this case or to anyone else.”

For photos showing an “alcove” at the west end of the breezeway, along with a trash dumpster in that area, O’Keefe explained the “numbered evidence placards” which were upside-down bowls, put there, he stated, by “an astute officer” who covered visible items of evidence, without moving those items, with bowls borrowed from the nearby restaurant because a light rain had begun. Evidence from the breezeway, alcove and dumpster included an unfired .38 caliber bullet; a “butterfly knife” secreted inside a “sleeve” on the dumpster; a “white utility glove, latex,” on top of the dumpster, and a second glove similar to the first, located further out in the parking lot. O’Keefe also located gloves in the dumpster “mixed in with the garbage” that were similar to the ones found outside. “I got in the dumpster.”

Another exhibit diagrammed the interior of Talarico’s. O’Keefe noted one chair shown that exhibited a “bullet defect” from a shot that came in through the wall. He spoke to the fact that the front tables shown along the west wall are affixed to the floor, but that the chairs were movable and some had in fact been moved from their original position “by fire personnel and people trying to assist Bushaw. Some officers had blocked off the bar area to prevent patrons from walking through it, and they used chairs from those front tables. So, some elements of the crime scene there were moved – but that’s what happens when you’re trying to save someone’s life.”

O’Keefe elaborated on the location of the two bullet strikes shown in the western wall of the establishment; a bullet recovered from the back of a chair, and the meaning of the small white items shown in the photos, which turned out to be evidence markers: “Those are ‘tented’ business cards, “said the detective. “The officers at the scene were using their business cards; they ‘tented’ or folded them and placed them over evidence items, if the items were small enough.” Two items marked were a copper jacket from a fired semi-automatic bullet, and the lead core of a bullet. Per O’Keefe, “There were two different types of bullets that entered Talarico’s. One was a fully jacketed semi-automatic bullet, and this is a bullet consistent with a .38 Special. You can’t fire a .38 special bullet from a semi-automatic, and you can’t fire a 9 mm luger bullet from a revolver.”

The jury was shown a limited selection of photos (from the 98 taken) of Bushaw’s 2001 Volvo being processed for evidence.After explaining the rigorous methods of the vehicle search, O’Keefe stated that “We didn’t find any drugs, any weapons, any diaries or things like that.. In the trunk, a lot of clothes-mostly work clothes-and a hard hat. We didn’t find anything that I would call ‘of criminal interest’.”

Addressing the clothing evidence, O’Keefe discussed the bullet defect documented on Bushaw’s jeans, and the three holes noted on the right-hand side of Bushaw’s jacket: “On the right side, there was a defect under the armpit, right about here; another one along the seam, farther down, maybe 8′ or 9″ or so, then there was one center of chest, about 3 or 4 inches from (to the right of) the zipper.” “Did these appear different one from another, or similar?” “Similar, but when a bullet passes through clothing, it goes in, but the hole itself may not show the caliber, as the fabric can contract afterward.” “These three holes that you found, or defects, were any remarkably different one from the other?” “No.”

Defense attorney Roe queried O’Keefe if “…the blood or amount of blood (on clothing) is from the bullets, or can also be from movement during medical treatment?” to which O’Keefe spoke to the difficulty of a definitive answer. Roe followed with “So, how the blood pattern emerges on a piece of clothing in a case like this really can’t be relied upon for anything scientific, as to what wound was the most severe?” O’Keefe: “That would be up to the medical examiner.” Roe also asked if the clothes were tested for gun powder, and if that was known as stippling, to which O’Keefe applied in the negative, and explained stippling is evidence of unburnt powder that comes from out the gun barrel at very close range, and “the further you get back, you won’t get as much stippling. 2 feet, 3 feet, 6 feet, you may not get anything.”

Answering Roe’s questions about deducing bullet trajectory based on the position of the spent casings found out in the street, O’Keefe explained that with only 3 casings, that’s not much of a pattern to show where the shooter was; the casings were in middle of street and cars went past them, too. O’Keefe answered Roe’s questions about the weather conditions the night of the shooting; and as to whether he did any investigation at SW Edmunds street where the 7-11 is located, replied that “we walked the streets, looking for ballistic evidence or anything…just looked to make sure there aren’t bullets lying in the street. We didn’t find anything, which doesn’t mean we didn’t miss anything.” He reiterated that he is not a DNA expert, and that no DNA was found on the unspent .38 bullet in the breezeway.

Defense attorney Savage asked “As you searched Bushaw’s Volvo, were you looking for anything in particular?” “I was looking for drugs, or weapons, or hate mail, or flash drives, anything that would give a motive for this case.” “So anything you might ordinarily examine, such as mud on the floor, would be of no interest to you?” “No. And the clothing in the trunk, there was no bullet-proof vest, just work clothes.”

Asked by Savage to give the jury an idea of the number of shots fired, O’Keefe replied that, based on the crime scene evidence, “I believe there were 5 shots fired.” “So we have five shots, at least two different weapons?” “Yes.” “Could there have been a third weapon?” “Not (one that was) fired.”

Before we get to the next witness, please note: Some names in this section will be shown as “(Person X),” “(Person Y),” etc., as those individuals are crime victims, and/or possible crime suspects who have not been charged, so would not be named under WSB policy (as was the case when we published the probable-cause documents and charges).

Robbery Unit Detective Michael Magan, a 24-year SPD officer, took the stand.

Baird: “On January 20th, 2009, did you become involved in investigation of a home invasion robbery?” “Yes,” replied Magan, and so began his testimony about questioning the robbery victims, finding out what the robbers had been searching the home for, and who the “third man” (suspected of having remotely “directed” the the other two robbers via cellphone) might have been-a suspicion which ultimately led to the murder of West Seattleite Steve Bushaw.

Magan testified that he spoke with (Person X), the primary homeowner or renter; (Person Y); (Person Z), and Brandon Chaney, roommate. He noted that (Person X) had severe injuries including a broken arm, head lacerations, and had been beaten with a baseball bat. Chaney reported having been pistol-whipped and was not injured as severely as (Person X); the other two victims were uninjured. The home was stated as being on South Myrtle Street in Seattle.

(Person X) when initially questioned in the emergency room stated that two masked men, both armed with guns, got into the house, and one suspect beat him and demanded to know where the money was in the house. (Person X) then admitted he had been selling marijuana from the home, up to 1/4 pound at a time (1/4 pound sold for approximately $900).

Chaney told that Magan that he lived with (Person X). He talked about the two masked armed men and specifically, repeatedly said they were there looking for money. At the time of questioning, Chaney had not heard (Person X)’s statement about the motive for the robbery.

“Neither (Person X) or Chaney said they recognized the two individuals who entered the home.”

Both did indicate, per Magan, “that one acted more as control/cover person keeping victims down on the ground with use of handgun, while the other was going through the house, turning it upside down searching for drugs, and he appeared to be taking incoming calls or making outgoing calls, appearing to be getting instructions on where to look in the house, and he’d disappear with each call and go search, then come back and assault (Person X) and Chaney.

Asked by Baird to refer to the printed transcript of his taped interview with Chaney, Magan testified that, when asked “Is there anything else you can tell me?” Chaney replied, “Not really…I’m sitting here trying to figure out what this was about, you know what I’m saying? There was another guy not too long ago had been living there and…just ’cause he wasn’t working and wasn’t pitching in on none of the bills.” Magan: “what was his name?” “Johnny.” “Johnny what?” “I have no idea; he was a black guy.” Chaney said he didn’t know how they’d hooked up with Johnny; “(Person X) knows him. And you know, I just knew him for, you know, living with a month, 3 weeks or so, but since he was already living there when I moved in, you know, and he wasn’t going to work, and (Person X) was like, ‘man, you gotta leave, or whatever,’ and so he moved out about 2 weeks ago.”

Baird: “Did (Person X) or Chaney say anything about the identity of who might have been directing the robbery by telephone?” “No sir.”

On January 22nd, 2009, Magan conducted a taped interview with (Person X), who stated “They (the robbers) were in there for money and drugs.” “And what type of drugs?” “Marijuana.”

Per Magan, (Person X) did mention one of the robbers as using a phone: “He went through the house one time, looking, couldn’t find anything. Came back, made a phone call, asked whoever it was where it could be. He’d go look, and then he’d came back over and started kicking and punching me again…when he’d come back from searching wherever he was searching, he’d get back on the phone.”

Magan did not recall asking (Person X) if he specifically knew who that person (on the other end of phone) could be. (Person X)’s “stash” was kept upstairs “in a cubbyhole.” Magan asked him, “Did many people know where that cubbyhole was in your bedroom?” “No.” “How many people do you think knew where you kept your stash?” “Well, two, maybe three.”

After the interview, while walking out of the building, (Person X) told Magan that “…he possibly had information on who might have been on the phone, and he’d get that to me later.”

On a later call that day, “the first name he gave me was (Person M). The second was…” (looks at transcript) “Steffan Bushey (pronounced “steff-ON boo-SHAY”). I think he and I were both phonetically attempting to spell that.” Two days later, (Person X) provided more info on (Person M). “He said (Person M) was Hispanic male, 24 years old, and that he was just released from prison for doing similar types of robberies…he also told me that Bushey used to drive a blue Volvo, lives in West Seattle, and is a longshoreman. Also provided “Bushey’s” cell phone number.”

Magan learned at about 6:30 in the morning February 2, 2009, that Steve Bushaw had been murdered. He called each of the victims in the home invasion robbery and “I informed them that a possible suspect in the robbery had been murdered.”

Defense attorney Roe asked questions clarifying discrepancies between the copies of the transcripts they each were referring to, regarding phone calls (Person X) made to Magan the morning of February 2nd, and when it was that Magan advised Detectives Takamoto and Cooper of the relation between “our victims and theirs?” “I show I came in at 6:30 in the morning and that’s when I saw them at their desks and we talked.”

“You looked up (Person M), correct?” “Yes.” “And you did some research on someone named Bushey, correct?” “Yes.” “When (Person X) spoke to you, you asked him if there was any marijuana in the house at the time of the robbery and he said no, and no cash in the house?” “Correct.” “He told you that two, maybe three people knew the contents/location of that little cubbyhole; did he indicate my client Brandon Chaney, knew?” “No, he did not.”

“When you asked (Person X) ‘did they take your cell phone,’ why did you ask him that? “Because an officer at hospital informed me that the phones had been taken by suspects during the course of the robbery. He said, ‘no, they had taken everybody’s phones and I don’t have a land line, and my arms, I was bleeding, and I told my roommate we had to get to the hospital right now’.'”

Roe: “The irony here is, you actually knew Steve Bushaw; he was a witness in a prior case of yours, correct?” “Yes.”

Defense attorney Savage asked Magan how (Person X) described “the invaders.” “On Jan 22, he described suspect #1 as 6 ft, 150-160 pounds, light skinned Hispanic with green eyes, shaggy black hair, moustache. Didn’t speak with accent. He guessed 17-25 years old, black pants, black sweatshirt, black ski mask, work/knit gloves stretched over his hands. Second suspect: He didn’t get real good look; white, 6′, 6′ 2″ max, 190-220 pounds in weight, same age, black jacket over gray hooded sweatshirt, jeans on; thought he had gloves on – and he was armed with a pistol.”

(Later this morning, we will add the start of Sylve’s testimony; as noted earlier, he is scheduled to continue on Monday.)


As Steve Bushaw’s parents watched from the front row of the court room, John Sylve was sworn in and sat in the witness chair, his attorney seated behind his right shoulder. He answered Baird’s initial questions about the last time he’d been in that court room, that he’d entered a plea of guilty to second degree murder-with a firearms enhancement-and that the victim of that crime was Steve Bushaw. Sylve conceded that the conditions of the prosecutor having recommended the middle of the sentencing range was ” …that I come before the jury and testify as to what happened.” and that his sentence recommendation and reduced charge is contingent on truthful testimony.

Baird elicited answers from Sylve that shed light for the jury on Sylve’s connections- acquaintanceships, friendships-with the various people involved in this case, as well as his fateful visit to Seattle the night of the shooting.

Sylve moved from New Orleans to Yakima, Washingon in his sophomore year of high school. While in Yakima, he met (current defendant) Brandon Chaney; (Person X), and Danny O’Neal (convicted for shooting Bushaw). “Did you meet anyone in Seattle you had not met before?” “No.” “Did know (present defendant) Bryce Huber? Did you know him before you came to Seattle?” “No.” “Did you see him before you came to Seattle?” “No.”

Sylve and (Person X) had been friends in high school-at one point Sylve lived with (Person X)’s family in his senior year, but a falling out led to them not speak to each other for many years. Per Sylve, they’d talked things out a while back and had been renewing their friendship. “What was you relationship like Nov ’08 to Jan ’09?” “Getting to be friends again.” Sylve had traveled to Seattle prior to 2009 to meet the men he’d known in Yakima; the last such trip was three weeks prior to Bushaw’s murder:

“When you arrived (in Seattle) and met (Person X), did he appear to be injured?” “…yes. Far as I can tell, he just had a cast on his arm.” “Did he describe how that happened? The first time he described it, over the phone or in Seattle?” “Seattle.” “Did you talk with him about what happened?” “Not so much.” “Talk with Chaney about it?” “No.” “How did you spend that time in Seattle?” “Just a night. Then drove back to Yakima.”

“Did you speak to (Person X) between the time you returned to Yakima, and the time you returned to Seattle after 8 pm Feb 1, 2009?” “Yes.” Did (Person X) talk further, more detail about what had happened?” “No.” “Did he make a request of you…you arrived last in Seattle February 1, right?” “Correct.” You and (Person X) had last talked in Yakima. Did (Person X) make any requests of you?” “He asked me to bring him a gun to sell to him.” “Why?” “He wanted a gun for protection after the recent break in.”

Sylve testified that “I told him, I had a gun, I can sell it. I’d had the gun over 5 years,” saying that it was a stainless steel/chrome .38. and he wanted to get rid of it because “My wife didn’t know I had it, and I couldn’t leave it in the house (with his children) when I moved away…I just got a job offer in Texas; my plans were to come to Seatle (again) on a long layover, meet up with (Person X), give him the gun, and fly to San Antonio.” (Sylve was scheduled to fly from Seattle to San Antonio at 6 am the next morning.)

Having packed his gun and some ammunition in his carry-on (a backpack), Sylve brought two other pieces of luggage on the shuttle bus from Yakima as well, arriving at SeaTac on Super Bowl Sunday. He checked in the other luggage for his flight the next day, and walked out of SeaTac wearing his backpack. Baird: “Were you concerned going to SeaTac with a firearm?” “Yes.” “What was your plan?” Get to the airport and see (Person X) as soon as possible.” “As you walked out of airport with your backpack and that gun, what were you expecting to happen in the next 10 hours?” “See highlights of the game.” “Who did you expect to see?” “(Person X) for sure.”

Having called (Person X) with his cellphone during the shuttle ride, to confirm that he was on his way, Sylve said he’d been given Chaney’s cell number; (Person X) “was busy with his daughter, so he said he or Chaney would pick me up.” He was picked up by Chaney, who was accompanied by Danny O’Neal and (Person A). “You knew O’Neal from Yakima, and had never met (Person A) before, right?” As to the mood of the car’s occupants, “I would say…happy, excited. No one was sad.” “Did you talk about the super bowl?” “No. I started bragging that I’d made it through two airports with the gun. Just…my dumb luck, you know. Just showing off.” Sylve stated that he took it out of the backpack and briefly showed it to them. “Did Chaney, (Person A) or O’Neal say anything?” “Just that they couldn’t believe I did it, couldn’t believe I got away with it.”

First they went to “Chaney’s barbershop” where soon (Person X) drove up, joining them. “I got in the car with him and showed him the gun. (Person X) asked, if ‘it had any bodies on it, how it shoots, when is the last time you fired it,’ and he asked me, how much did I want for it? I said, nothing.” Baird asked Sylve why he would give (Person X) the gun instead of selling it to him. “1, I had to get rid of it; 2, he suffered from the break-in so he needed it more than I did.” “What was (Person X)’s reaction on February 1, 2009 when you told him he could have the gun?” “He was just ok with it. Not too much of a reaction.”

Sylve stated that he and (Person X) drove for drinks at a Riverside, a sports bar, as did Chaney, O’Neal and (Person A) and that outside the bar, he spoke briefly with (Person X) before going inside, about “…what happened in the break-in and how he’d ended up with that cast on his arm. I felt bad for him…” As (Person X) stayed in his car because he had his young daughter with him, for about the next half hour, Sylve split his time between being inside the bar, and outside, drinking with (Person X) in his car. “Talked about more details, about the break in?” “I felt a little mad because it happened to him, we’d been renewing our friendship.”

Everyone in the group drove to O’Neal’s apartment, “…to smoke weed.” Riding with (Person X) and his daughter, Sylve got the O’Neal’s the same time as the car with the other men. “You’d never met (Person A) before?” “Correct.” “At O’Neals apartment, did you smoke weed? With the group?” “Yes. (Person X)’s daughter was asleep at that time so she was in a back bedroom.”

The group was still talking about the Super Bowl, according to Sylve. Asked if he saw any other firearms at O’Neal’s apartment, Sylve testified that he did, seeing O’Neal remove two semi-automatic handguns that he’d been carrying or wearing, placing them on the countertop above his kitchen sink, and that no one else touched them.

“What did you observe about (Person A), having never met him before?” “Hyper. Not good and drunk, but well intoxicated. More than the others. Hyper, from his behavior. He was getting excited; smoking weed, the guns out and about. He wanted to see the gun I gave (Person X), who had brought the backpack into the apartment. Others saw the gun Sylve had brought to Seattle: “Yes, (Person X) pulled it out; pretty sure everyone saw it.”

When questioned by Baird as to whether or not (Person X) then said anything else about what had been done to him, and what should be done about it, Sylve said that the group’s talk turned toward the break in, “mostly (Person A), he couldn’t believe we were just going to “let them get away with this’.”

“Did anybody say who ‘they’ was?” “No.” “Did conversation progress about specfically what could be done?” “(Person X) said he knows the guy who believes he knows the guy who robbed (Person X). (Person A) said, ‘well if you know the guy who did it, what you gonna do about it?” Baird asked Sylve what the reaction was, to which Sylve replied “We were just drinking and smoking. Everybody was on board for retribution.”

Again, John Sylve is due back on the stand Monday when court is back in session at 9 am.

8 Replies to "Steve Bushaw murder trial: Confessed killer testifies"

  • Sean August 5, 2011 (7:38 am)

    Thanks so much for the in-depth coverage, it really is a very interesting case!

  • Robert Johnson August 5, 2011 (10:20 am)

    O’Keefe is mistaken about not being able to fire the 9MM Luger cartridge from a revolver. Ruger makes a revolver chambered for that cartridge and has for years now.

  • Larry Bernandez August 5, 2011 (6:15 pm)

    wow this is getting interesting. Looks like we are going to find out the truth and that is that Steve was NOT involved in the robbery that cost him his life. Killed over something he didn’t even do. How F&$#ing sad. Just shows how stupid these people are. They kill someone over drugs and they don’t even kill the right person! This is just so f ing senseless! These perpetrators are not even people as far as I’m concerned. They are too stupid, heartless and pathetic to be considered people. They are monkeys and they will rot in a cage and I will be thankful for that.

  • skyblue August 5, 2011 (7:24 pm)

    Great coverage. Also surprising that Sylve was able to conceal a handgun and ammo on his carry-on. Sheesh!!

  • mookie August 5, 2011 (8:14 pm)

    @skyblue I think it was because he took a shuttle bus, not an airplane, although he was at two airports to 1) catch the shuttle from Yakima and 2) arrive at SeaTac and check in luggage for the following day’s flight. Still, yeah…shudder.

  • Steve's bereaving Family August 5, 2011 (9:06 pm)

    We thank you for your true and in depth coverage of the murder trial for our beloved family member Steve. Our collective family heart is still broken from the great loss we suffered at the hands of these absolute cowards. We cannot begin to express the heaviness in our hearts that can’t be lightened by seeing these cowardice animals ALIVE and telling their arrogant story of making Steve pay for a debt he didn’t owe. Our tears are but a small measure we feel each and every day he is not with us. We love him with all our family heart and will miss him everyday. We can only hope that justice will be served swiftly and harshly to those cowards that don’t deserve to be on God’s good earth. This trial is not easy to watch… we can only hope that the truth will be known. Thank you all for your kind words.

  • Bill August 6, 2011 (2:23 pm)

    Oh wow, I like this – it’s like old fashioned reporting. Is any of this being covered in the newspapers?

    • WSB August 6, 2011 (3:23 pm)

      So far we are the only media in the courtroom.

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