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Originally published Thursday, September 2, 2010 at 8:27 AM

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Prosecutor to seek death penalty for Monfort in officer's slaying

The death penalty is on the table for Christopher Monfort, charged with killing a Seattle police officer, wounding another and attempting to kill others.

Seattle Times staff reporters

The King County prosecutor announced Thursday that he will seek the death penalty for Christopher Monfort, the man charged in last year's Halloween night ambush that killed one Seattle police officer and wounded another.

"The magnitude of the crimes with which the defendant is charged, and the absence of significant mitigating factors, convinced me that we should submit this case to the jury with the full range of applicable punishments, including the possibility of the death penalty," Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said in a prepared statement.

Monfort learned of the decision Thursday at a previously scheduled court hearing. When the announcement was read, Monfort, 41, looked down. His mother, in the court gallery, sat up straight and stared toward the judge.

Monfort's defense lawyer, Julie Lawry, said afterward that defense lawyers had told prosecutors Monfort would plead guilty if prosecutors would take the death penalty off the table in favor of life in prison without parole. She said she never heard back from Satterberg's office.

Satterberg said he could not discuss the issue except to say that the case underwent "intense scrutiny" before he made his decision.

Monfort, in a pair of interviews with The Seattle Times earlier this year, suggested that he expected to be sentenced to death, but said he was more likely to die from gunshot wounds he suffered during his arrest. He is paralyzed from the waist down and a bullet is still lodged near his spine.

"There's two paths out of here," Monfort said. Asked if he expected to be acquitted, he said no.

Monfort is charged with aggravated murder in the fatal shooting of Officer Timothy Brenton and attempted first-degree murder in the wounding of Britt Sweeney on Oct. 31 last year.

Brenton, 39, and officer-trainee Sweeney, 33, were seated in their parked patrol car in the Leschi neighborhood shortly after 10 p.m. when, police say, Monfort drove alongside and opened fire.

Brenton was killed immediately, and Sweeney suffered minor injuries.

Monfort's defense team was notified about Satterberg's decision on Wednesday and handed out a prepared statement after Thursday's hearing.

"Seeking the death sentence against Mr. Monfort will not ease the pain and grief caused by the death of Officer Brenton," the defense statement said.

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Monfort, who has used several of the hearings in his case to denounce police brutality, announced in court that "we cannot be upstanding citizens unless we are willing to stand up."

Monfort did not explain the statement.

Police and prosecutors say Monfort had intentionally targeted officers. He is accused of firebombing four police cruisers at a city maintenance yard on Oct. 22. Investigators found an unexploded device that was intended to detonate as police and firefighters responded to the initial blaze. Nobody was hurt.

However, the assailant left behind a note railing against police brutality, along with other items. Similar items were left at the scene of the ambush, police said.

After Brenton's slaying, a massive manhunt ensued and on Nov. 6, the day of Brenton's memorial service, a team of detectives was directed to a Tukwila apartment complex where a tipster reported seeing a car believed to have been in the area where the officer was slain.

As detectives approached the car, Monfort appeared, pulled a handgun and pointed it at Sgt. Gary Nelson. Monfort's weapon misfired, however, and he was shot in the face and abdomen when he tried to flee.

When police later searched Monfort's apartment, they say, they found an arsenal of guns, explosives and a manifesto on police brutality.

Monfort is also charged with firebombings and two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder — for pointing a gun at Nelson and another count for allegedly trying to kill officers at the scene of the firebombings.

Sweeney, Brenton's widow, Lisa, and Monfort's mother, Suzan, have attended many of Monfort's King County Superior Court hearings. Both Lisa Brenton and Suzan Monfort declined to comment after Thursday's hearing.

A member of Brenton's family told The Times that the family supports Satterberg in his decision to seek the death penalty.

As part of the death-penalty decision, Satterberg is required by law to consider any mitigating circumstances — reasons why a defendant should not be considered for the death penalty — as he carries out an examination of the case and Monfort's background.

Satterberg made the decision to seek the death penalty without receiving mitigation materials from the defense.

In court last week, defense attorney Julie Lawry said they were not ready to submit the materials to Satterberg's office. Lawry asked Superior Court Judge Ronald Kessler to have Satterberg delay announcing his decision, but Kessler said he didn't believe he had the authority to intervene.

The prepared defense statement read: "There is a great deal of information about Mr. Monfort and his background that merit leniency and weigh heavily against the death penalty."

The statement did not delve into what the potential mitigating factors are.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.

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

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