By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
“The defense calls Lovett Chambers.”
After those words from attorney Ben Goldsmith, the highest-stakes witness of the 3-month-old murder trial – the defendant himself – crossed the courtroom Monday afternoon to testify.
The day’s other major witness was his wife Sara Chambers, who was on the stand all morning and at the start of the afternoon. But she wasn’t there when he fired the fatal shots at Travis Hood on January 21, 2012, so all she could provide was context and aftermath.
Goldsmith asked outright and immediately: “Why did you shoot him?”
“To save my life,” Chambers replied.
After that zero-to-sixty opening, Goldsmith backtracked to lead Chambers through the background of his Seattle life. He met his wife at Pike Place Market (where, she testified earlier, she has sold jewelry for more than 30 years). Shortly thereafter, he started his own construction company, and was licensed in Washington and Oregon. But while en route to a bid opening for an Oregon project, he said, he was hit by a truck, breaking his back, leading to two surgeries. He decided to switch businesses and went back to school for computer-related degrees from local colleges.
They moved to West Seattle from Leschi in 1993, after buying their house (built in the 1940s, Sara Chambers had testified earlier). Chambers explained that one of its attractions was that it “sits on a one-block street, not much traffic.”
Asked about the day of the shooting, his home office is where his story began. He had been on a conference call that went so well, he was “elated” afterward: “I was happy because I got this contract … that was going to go on for possibly a couple years so we’d be ensured income.” He called his wife to tell her.
Then he went out, first to Bartell Drugs at Jefferson Square for what he recalled was either blood pressure or asthma medication. Looking over at the parking lot for Rocksport (which closed six months later), one of his favorite bars, he saw friends’ cars there, and went over and “had one beer,” saying he was there less than half an hour.
He went to Beveridge Place Pub first, he said, to find out what time an auction for Furry Faces Foundation was planned, because his wife wanted to donate a piece of jewelry. He said Furry Faces had helped them when they needed veterinary services, so “that was our way of paying them back.” He found out the event had been postponed and was rescheduled for the next day or night. He called his wife to tell her about it.
At some point he went to Feedback Lounge next door, which he said was also going to participate in the auction, and had martinis. He said he was thinking of leaving after his second one when his friend Pierre (who testified last week) called.
And Chambers kept drinking. He “wasn’t counting,” he told Goldsmith. But more than usual, since, he said, “I usually have two martinis.”
When Pierre left, he got up to go to the restroom, and then “followed him out the door.” Not “right on his coattail,” Chambers clarified, but shortly afterward.
At that point in the story, Goldsmith asked if Chambers had seen Travis Hood, Hood’s friend Jamie Vause in Feedback Lounge that night, or if he had overheard anyone using racist language. No, no, and no, he said.
“When you left, how were you feeling in terms of intoxication?”
“I knew I had consumed way past my limit, I was feeling it … trying to get home before the full effect hit. … I don’t like to be drunk and helpless in public.”
“… What was your plan?”
“To get in my car and drive home.”
His car was parked just north of Beveridge Place. “As I walked north on California Avenue, I had just crossed the little street that looks like an alley [Beveridge Place, between its namesake pub and the Feedback] and I became aware of two men talking in back of me … They were making racial derogatory comments.”
Such as? Goldsmith asked.
“They said, ‘look at that n—er there, look at the way he’s walking, his mammy must have taught him how to walk like that’.”
Goldsmith asked about the men’s “tone of voice or accent.”
Chambers: They had southern accents … they were just making racial slurs, hateful comments … I assumed they were drunk.”
He tried to put some distance between himself and the men, he said, even walking in the street around the last car before his. He used his key to unlock the car; he said one twist of the key will either lock or unlock all the car’s locks. “I got into my automobile and was in the process of putting on my seat belt when the passenger-side door was yanked open. I was confused, I was wondering what was going on, I didn’t know what was happening. There was a man standing in the opening of the door and he looked as though he was poised to come into the car where I was – my mind is bouncing all over the place and I am wondering what is going on … He made a motion to go to his waistband; he had what I thought was a knife, and then he stood up straighter than he was before.”
At this point, Chambers said, he reached over and pulled the door shut. He said he could not see the man’s face. It happened in the span of “milliseconds,” he said. “I was in a panic mode, especially when I saw what I thought was a knife … I didn’t know if it was a carjacking or robbery or continuation of what was going on on the sidewalk.”
Soon after that, he said, someone was banging on his trunk lid. Thta’s when he reached under the passenger seat for his gun.
“Did you try to get away?”
“I tried to lock the doors and tried to start the car … I was panicking, twisted the ignition too hard and it just spun.” He attributed that to an antitheft system in his “old BMW” (which he described shortly thereafter as having 178,000 miles at the time, considerably up from the 7,000 it had when he bought it. The doors wouldn’t lock, he said, though he “kept hitting the button.” He couldn’t recall if he had “completely closed” the driver or passenger-side door.
“I was in a panic mode and at that point in time I saw myself sitting there like a sitting duck.”
So why did he get out of the car and head north, away from the bars, instead of perhaps trying to get help?
The afternoon break was called at that point, and Chambers’ testimony resumed afterward.
Goldsmith picked up the questioning: “You couldn’t get the car started, couldn’t get your doors locked, what did you think was going to happen?”
“I was really concerned for my safety, did not feel confident at all, would not be well prepared to fend off a knife attack sitting in an automobile.”
From the evidence-holding area beneath the judge’s bench, Goldsmith picked up a gun and had Chambers identify it as his, saying that when he got out of the car after retrieving it from under the seat, it was in his waistband. “I always carry it in Condition #1” – slide racked, hammer cocked, safety on.
“Was it in that position when you got out of the car?”
“I imagine it was.”
“When you got out of the car, could you see the man you thought had a knife?”
“I couldn’t locate him, that’s part of what was causing a lot of anxiety, I’d lost visual sight of him; the only person I could see was the person who was banging on rear deck of the trunk.” So, Chambers said, he edged toward the rear of his car (which was facing south on the west side of California, so that meant he was heading north).
“Why did you do that instead of go inside the bar?”
“Because that was the last place I saw the guy [he thought had a] knife … lot of places for him to hide inbetween cars .. it was dark there … I didn’t want to be attacked with a knife.”
“But you had a gun.”
“A knife can cover 20 feet in a second.”
Goldsmith asked what the one person Chambers had in sight was doing then.
“He had moved to the curb … saying real mean racist comments, things like n—-r, n—-r, too many damn n—–rs. … I tried to watch him at same time and figure out where the other guy had gone.”
“Why did you care?”
“The guy who was on the curb kept shouting, real aggressive toward me; if I started looking around he’d holler to try to get my attention.”
“… Where were you trying to go?”
There was light a little further up the sidewalk, just north of where I was parked.” Chambers said he thought that if he had better visibility all around, “I couldn’t be attacked.”
“You thought you were being ‘ratpacked’?” asked Goldsmith, using a term that had been described earlier in the trial as a means of ambush in prison violence, with someone distracting the victim as one or more others got ready to attack.
Yes, Chambers said, reiterating that the “guy on the curb kept trying to get my attention and distract me”; he was then alongside Morgan Junction Park, “up on the west side of the sidewalk” parallel with “the guy on the east side walking along the curb. … At this point I was still trying to locate the other guy so he didn’t sneak up on me before I got to the place that was better lit, and (I was) keeping the guy on the curb in view, at the same time moving down the sidewalk in a northerly direction … I was hoping they would get enough of whatever they were doing and just disappear.” He said he also was hoping that perhaps someone he knew would come out of the bars, but no one did.
“As we moved down the sidewalk a few more feet, the guy suddenly sprinted forward to a red truck, reached into (it) and pulled a shovel out.”
Goldsmith asked if Chambers had known that he was walking toward the vehicle that had brought the other man to the area: “No.”
The defense lawyer then picked up the shovel, which has been shown repeatedly in the courtroom: “Did you know this shovel was in the back of that red pickup?”
No, he said, he didn’t. “When he got the shovel up, he spun around at me .. like a batter … and he said, ‘Now I’m gonna knock your n—er head off’.”
“What did you think he was going to do when he (did that)?” asked Goldsmith, wielding the shovel in that stance.
“I believe he was going to kill me. No, he told me he was going to kill me. I believed him.”
And that’s when he shot Hood.
“Do you remember how many times you shot him?”
“No.” But, Chambers said, he remembered “a look of rage in (Hood’s) face.”
“What’s the next thing you remember?”
At his home afterward, “Sara saying, ‘Cid, get up and open the door’ … When (she said that), I was asleep in a lounge chair.”
He said he opened the door, found police there, and was told he was under arrest; officers “took me off the front porch and read me my rights.” After which, he said, “I told them I did not wish to make any statements.” He said he also asked to use the restroom but “they didn’t let me do that.”
After standing outside for what he thought was at least half an hour, he said, he was taken to the Southwest Precinct. “I thought I would be taken there and allowed to make a phone call, contact an attorney …” But, he said, he wasn’t, though he was there at least an hour before being taken downtown to the Homicide Unit for questioning, and felt he was there “all night and part of the morning.” He acknowledged falling asleep at one point – as had been shown earlier in the trial on video – “I had been up since 5 am the previous morning … I was tired.”
And he remembered “waking up and knocking on the door, banging on the door, then kicking the door … no one came.” There was no buzzer, no phone. He still needed to urinate “pretty badly,” he said. “I was faced with either urinating in my pants or doing it in the corner of the room.”
He did the latter, and said it felt “very humiliating,” saying he felt police “were intentionally denying me access to (the restroom),” as he said had been done to him by juvenile authorities in his younger years in Indianapolis.
When detectives took him to Harborview Medicine Center for a blood-alcohol test, he said, “I told them I didn’t want to talk.” And Goldsmith asked whether Chambers’s wrist was injured during the trip to the hospital: “When we left the room, the cuffs were placed on me too tightly.” He said the circulation was being cut off, so he complained, but the detective said it was a short ride to the hospital and “we’ll take them off then.” They weren’t, he said, and after he asked again, he said he was told “for a fellow I sure whined a lot.” Eventually, they were loosened, but “both (hands) swelled up later that morning … I sustained permanent nerve damage to my right wrist. … I thought it was a softening-up (for questioning) technique.”
If he didn’t want to talk, why did he answer the Homicide detectives’ questions, as seen on video, after they returned from the hospital?
“… To prevent abuse,” said Chambers, explaining that he feared “escalation of physical harm.”
“Why didn’t you tell (the detectives) the truth of what happened” before the shooting? asked Goldsmith.
“Based on what had already happened to me over the course of the evening, going into the morning, I just didn’t trust them.”
“What did you think would happen?”
“I thought the shovel and other evidence would disappear.”
“Do you trust police?”
“No, not at all,” because, he said, of what happened in his earlier years. Asked why he hadn’t told his wife about his past – as she had testified earlier in the day – “It was a very ugly time, some ugly things happened, real bad memories … I wouldn’t want to share them with anyone.”
Goldsmith subsequently went through some questions about those years, including Chambers’s time living with an alcoholic, verbally abusive stepfather, getting involved with troublemaker cousins, and run-ins with Indianapolis police, whom he said were like “undercover Klansmen – this was the early ’50s – very hostile to the black community … they had no problems calling you a n—er right to your face, black Sambo, things like that.”
That’s when court ended for the day.
Just before Chambers took the stand, the defense was allowed to call two witnesses who had been challenged by the prosecution in arguments outside the presence of the jury, both friends of Chambers who said in their brief testimony that they had used “the N-word” in his presence, in jokes (as opposed to directly toward him), and that he never reacted angrily or seemed to take offense. On cross-examination, both acknowledged they had not seen him the day/night of the shooting, nor had they seen him react to the use of that word by someone who wasn’t a friend.
Before them, the jury heard from Sara Chambers, the defendant’s wife of 22 years – “as of last Friday,” she noted.
They met at her workplace, Pike Place Market; the year after they married, in 1993, they bought their “1949 bungalow” in Gatewood. Defense attorney Lauren McLane led her through personal background, with prosecutor Mari Isaacson frequently interjecting “objection!” on grounds of relevance. Sara Chambers mentioned she has “a few memory issues – I am a stroke survivor.”
They went out with friends fairly often, she said, but not as often as he went out by himself to local bars – most often Rocksport, but also, she said, Beveridge Place, Feedback Lounge, “a couple other places in The Junction.” She works weekends, she said, so often he would go out for a while “to try to give her time to decompress” when she got home.
She mentioned his medical conditions – asthma, allergies, high blood pressure, cholesterol – and his nicknames. She told McLane she did not know that “Cidrick Mann” was an alias of her husband’s, nor did she know of his past criminal history until “the incident.”
McLane led her through a few points that had been brought up by the forensic psychologist whose had testified at the start of the defense’s case – alarm/security installations in the couple’s cars, concern about incidents in the area, particularly the 1993 random murder of a woman on a Beach Drive bench, described in the news media as “a gang-initiation shooting,” she recalled. After that, she and her husband didn’t picnic in that area any more.
After going through other safety concerns that had been described earlier in the trial, McLane reached the topic of guns. Her husband “encouraged me to take a firearm-safety course and get (a gun) for protection.” She said she bought one for him because “he had expressed interest in getting one, had been buying magazines and researching them, so I bought him one” – somewhere between 15 and 20 years ago.
While he left it in his car if they were going into public buildings, she said, it was always nearby while they were at home – out on a table, for example.
Her testimony then moved to the day of the shooting. Pike Place Market was open until 6 but vendors could leave any time after 5, she said, and “I don’t believe I stayed until 6 that day.”
She said she had called her husband because of the animal-advocacy group’s auction, and went to Beveridge Place and Feedback to work out logistics of donating to it; her husband was at the latter, “chatting with (his friend) Pierre.” She said they were “celebrating (her husband’s) new contract,” but she stayed about 10 minutes because she was “focused on jewelry and wanted to go home …”
She next saw him when he arrived “around quarter to 10.” She said she was watching a movie featuring Rainn Wilson, “a friend of mine’s son … very bad movie, by the way … it was about 15, 20 minutes before the movie ended.”
Her husband, she said, came in through the back door, “sat his stuff down on (the kitchen) table,” and she said she could see him in the kitchen “pour(ing) himself a good-sized glass of wine” before he went to the living room and sat next to her.
“Did he say anything?” asked McLane.
“He looked at the screen and said, ‘Lame movie’.” Then, she said, he sipped his wine, “rested his eyes,” and was “very quiet.”
Police arrived, she said, and after he went outside the door, they “started coming in .. I sat in the chair and said, ‘what’s going on?’ … I was told to just sit there.” Eventually, she said, she was taken to the Homicide Unit office to be questioned.
“What did you tell the detective Mr. Chambers said to you?”
“That the movie I was watching was ‘lame’.”
Beginning cross-examination, prosecutor Isaacson noted that the couple went to target practice together at a shooting range and asked why his gun had been purchased by her.
Sara Chambers said it had been a birthday present.
But, asked Isaacson, didn’t he request (a specific .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun)?
“I brought him with me and he picked it out.”
In her interview with the defense witness Dr. Mark Cunningham, she hadn’t mentioned it was a birthday present, Isaacson pointed out, offering Cunningham’s written report so that Sara Chambers could refresh her memory.
“It was very stressful to be interviewed and I didn’t remember every little detail at that time.”
Isaacson noted that the witness had been quoted as at first thinking perhaps her husband had had too much to drink before he came home that night but later changing her mind and thinking he was quiet because he was in shock. “But you know he is a conditioned drinker?” the prosecutor asked – in other words, drinking daily.
“Until this, you didn’t know he had two different last names, an alias?”
“I did not.”
“You didn’t know about his criminal history?”
About his years in prison? “No.”
“You still don’t believe it,” Isaacson suggested.
“Well, it has been brought to my attention by people who seem to know … I have not seen evidence of it. I would need to see evidence of it to believe it.”
After the lunch break, McLane spent a few minutes with re-direct questioning that ended Sara Chambers’ testimony. She had the defendant’s wife recap that she bought his gun because he wanted one and had been talking about and researching it; she also had her affirm that her husband had been concerned about the High Point neighborhood before its redevelopment, just a mile or so from their “very safe” neighborhood in Gatewood.
TODAY: Lovett Chambers’ testimony will continue when trial proceedings resume around 9 am before King County Superior Court Judge Theresa B. Doyle. We don’t know who, if anyone, will be called when he is done. As we did yesterday, we’ll publish an update during the day if there are any major developments.
Trial report, Wednesday 3/26/2014 (Last day before a 4-day recess)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/25/2014 (Five defense witnesses)
Trial report, Monday 3/24/2014 (Cross-examinations dominate the day)
Trial report, Thursday 3/20/2014 (Defense’s 1st witness continues)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/19/2014 (Prosecution rests, defense begins)
(No court Monday-Tuesday 3/17-18 due to illnesses)
Trial report, Thursday 3/13/2014 (Prosecution calls final witness)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/12/2014 (More blood-alcohol-level discussions)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/11/2014 (Interrogation discussion, autopsy photos)
Trial report, Monday 3/10/2014 (Confrontational video continues)
Trial report, Thursday 3/6/2014 (Car controversy; Chambers on video)
Trial report, Wednesday 3/5/2014 (Defense protests surprise, calls for mistrial)
Trial report, Tuesday 3/4/2014 (‘Police and a passerby’)
Trial report, Monday 3/3/2014 (‘Back to the background’)
Trial report, Thursday 2/27/2014 (Jamie Vause’s second & final day on the stand)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/26/2014 (Jamie Vause’s first day on the stand)
Trial report, Tuesday 2/25/2014 (DNA analysis, police)
Trial report, Monday 2/24/2014 (5 more witnesses)
Trial report, Thursday 2/20/14 (first witnesses)
Trial report, Wednesday 2/19/14 (opening statements)