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Originally published November 11, 2009 at 12:16 AM | Page modified November 11, 2009 at 12:16 AM

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State Patrol crime lab races to detect shooter

The State Patrol crime lab in Seattle went into overdrive after the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton on Oct. 31.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The State Patrol crime lab in Seattle went into overdrive after the fatal shooting of Seattle police Officer Timothy Brenton on Oct. 31.

Priority status was given to the case because it represented a potential aggravated murder case with a dangerous suspect at large, not because Brenton was a police officer, James Tarver, the head of the lab, said Tuesday.

Tarver said the killing of a police officer represents an attack on society.

Still, the goal is the same as in other high-level homicides or serial rapes when a suspect is at large: provide information to law enforcement to help "put a stop" to the criminal activity, Tarver said.

Forensic scientists put in extra hours last week as they sought to help Seattle police determine who was behind the shooting and whether it was connected to the firebombing of four Seattle police vehicles at a city maintenance yard nine days earlier.

The lab had begun working on the firebombing before the shooting, developing a DNA profile from a small American flag and other items left at the maintenance yard.

When a flag-emblazoned bandanna was found near Brenton's patrol car after the shooting — providing police a potential link to the firebombing — it was the lab that matched the DNA.

The lab wasn't able to link the DNA profile to anyone because the eventual suspect, Christopher John Monfort, 41, had no criminal history and wasn't in the state DNA database.

It was a tipster who led police to Monfort Friday.

But when Monfort was shot and wounded by police during a confrontation at a Tukwila apartment complex, his bloody clothing allowed the lab to match his DNA to the profiles recovered at the shooting and bombing sites, police said.

Monfort's condition was upgraded from serious to satisfactory Tuesday at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle.

In doing the forensic work, one supervisor in the lab's DNA section worked 17 hours Saturday, Tarver said.

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The lab's work allowed Seattle police to announce they had apprehended the man they believed to be the suspect in Brenton's killing, as well as the Oct. 22 firebombing, which investigators believe was a failed attempt to kill responding officers and firefighters.

Two officers narrowly missed injury when a city worker drew them away from their patrol cars, parked next to a booby-trapped police vehicle parked at the city's maintenance yard at 714 S. Charles St., Seattle police said.

Ballistics work done by the lab also allowed police to link a rifle found in Monfort's apartment to the shooting of Brenton, a field training officer, and his rookie officer partner, Britt Sweeney, who was wounded.

Such work provides great satisfaction to the scientists, who could be making more money in other scientific fields, but work at the lab "for the greater good," Tarver said.

"We take to heart the victims of crime," Tarver said.

Those efforts include not only identifying suspects and helping prosecutors obtain convictions, but also clearing people of crimes, he said.

The scientists are "not advocates of either side," they are "advocates of physical evidence," Tarver said.

During the shooting investigation, other work went on at the lab with shifts in priorities, he said.

The scope of the firebombing became more clear Tuesday, with the disclosure of a brief typed letter found just feet from the damaged vehicles.

The letter, whose contents were obtained by The Seattle Times from a law-enforcement source, focused on rookie King County sheriff's Deputy Travis Brunner, one of the figures in a videotaped jailhouse beating of a teenage girl by another deputy last year.

The bombings were intended to be fatal and were "dedicated" to Brunner, said the letter's author, using the name "American Citizen."

The letter writer, who authorities believe is Monfort, blamed Brunner for failing to protect a 15-year-old girl who was beaten by his training officer, Deputy Paul Schene, in a holding cell on Nov. 29, 2008. Schene, who was fired in September, is charged with assault and his trial has been delayed because of concern that Monfort's arrest would make it difficult to pick a jury.

"These deaths are dedicated to Deputy Travis Brunner he stood by and did nothing as Deputy Paul Schene brutally beat and an unarmed girl in their care." the author said, writing as though the bombings killed officers. "You swear a solemn oath to protect us from all harm, that includes you start policing each other or get ready to attend a lot of police funerals."

King County sheriff's spokesman Sgt. John Urquhart said "we take the letter very seriously, not only as a threat to Deputy Brunner but as a threat to all sheriff's deputies and police officers."

Urquhart declined to release information about Brunner, except to say he was ordered suspended for five days for his role in the jail-cell attack. He said that Brunner is aware of the letter found at the maintenance yard.

King County prosecutors say they will charge Monfort later this week with aggravated first-degree murder for Brenton's death and attempted murder for Sweeney's injuries. He also could face additional counts for his alleged role in the South Charles Street arsons.

Steve Miletich: 206-464-3302 or smiletich@seattletimes.com

Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or jensullivan@seattletimes.com

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