The trial of accused cop killer Christopher Monfort isn't scheduled to begin until next September, yet taxpayers have already spent millions on his legal bills.
According to records obtained from King County through a public disclosure request, Monfort’s public defenders spent over $2.32 million on his case through December 2012. That’s more than five times what King County prosecutors have spent to date -- $445,997.
"I think officers are upset about it. I think the numbers are pretty shocking and we haven't even had a trial yet,” said Rich O’Neill, President of the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild, which represents 1,250 police officers and sergeants.
On the other hand, O’Neill said denying defense requests for money could backfire.
“I do not want to give Monfort and his defense team any appeal grounds, any wiggle room because they weren’t allowed to bring in some expert, or whatever else they’re spending money on,” O’Neill said.
Monfort is charged with the ambush murder of Seattle Police Officer Timothy Brenton and the attempted murder of Brenton’s partner, Officer Britt Sweeney. The pair was sitting in a police car in Seattle’s Leschi neighborhood when Monfort allegedly opened fire on Halloween night 2009.
Brenton was killed and Sweeney was grazed by a bullet, but managed to get out of the police car and return fire. Monfort was shot by police a week later when they arrested him outside his Tukwila apartment complex, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty against Monfort, which explains the big bills, said Seattle criminal defense attorney Mark Larraanaga, who is not working on Monfort’s case.
“When the prosecution seeks the death penalty, a whole other area of requirements kicks in. For example, there has to be at least two lawyers, there has to be a mitigation specialist, there has to be a fact investigator,” said Larraanaga, who teaches classes on the death penalty at the Seattle University School of Law.
But former King County Deputy Prosecutor Steve Fogg, who once prosecuted homicide cases, including death penalty cases, said there is another reason for sky high defense spending.
"This is, in my opinion a political strategy. The legislature has said the death penalty is the law of the state and there are people who think, well, we'll see about that. If it gets so expensive and so costly and so time consuming to bring the case, we'll see if it the law of the state,” Fogg said.
Monfort’s case is expected to cost millions more before a jury decides his fate. O’Neill hopes the frenzy surrounding the case won’t overshadow what happened to Timothy Brenton, the latest name to be painted on the Wall of Fallen Officers at Police Guild headquarters in Seattle.
"He was a public servant who was killed, brutally gunned down simply because he was wearing the uniform,” O’Neill said.