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Judge tosses death penalty against accused Seattle cop killer

A King County Superior Court judge has thrown out the death penalty in the case against accused cop-killer Christopher Monfort. (Tim Haek/KIRO Radio file)

A King County Superior Court judge has thrown out the death penalty in the case against accused cop-killer Christopher Monfort, The Seattle Times reported.

Chief Criminal Judge Ronald Kessler ruled Friday that King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg conducted a "flawed and minimalist" investigation into factors that could have warranted a life sentence instead of death. But the judge did rule the case could proceed as a capital case so as not to delay his trial.

The Times reports the judge criticized Satterberg for deciding to seek the death penalty before Monfort's defense team could gather and present information about mitigating circumstances such as mental illness that could have led the prosecutor to not seek the death penalty.

In a statement, Satterberg's office said they would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court:

"State law calls for the prosecutor to consider any evidence of mitigation prior to making a death penalty decision. In this case, the defense refused to provide any information to the prosecution. The prosecution gave the defense team ten months to provide mitigation information, which is nine months longer than state law requires. In the absence of any information from the defense, the prosecution considered all available mitigating information and decided it was not sufficient to merit leniency.

The court ruled that the refusal of the defendant's legal team to provide any evidence of mitigation precludes the prosecutor from filing the notice of intent to seek the death penalty. The defense has still not provided any evidence of mitigation, more than three years after the arraignment date."

Monfort faces charges in the Oct. 31, 2009 shooting that killed Officer Timothy Brenton and wounded Officer Britt Sweeney.

Monfort allegedly pulled alongside a parked patrol car in the Leschi neighborhood and opened fire as Brenton, 39, and Sweeney, now 36, sat inside.

Monfort is accused of waging a concerted attack on police, allegedly firebombing four police vehicles at a city maintenance yard nine days before the shooting. Police said one of the makeshift bombs was set to go off as police and firefighters arrived to investigate the initial blasts.

Police shot and capture Monfort the week after the shooting during a confrontation outside his Tukwila apartment.

Along with the murder charges, Monfort is also charged with arson and two additional counts of attempted first-degree murder for allegedly pointing a gun at Nelson and for allegedly trying to kill officers at the scene of the firebombings, the Times reports.

Friday's ruling is the second court defeat for Satterberg's office in recent weeks. Earlier this month, another judge ruled King County prosecutors could not seek the death penalty against two people in the murders of a family of six in Carnation.

Satterberg's office is appealing that ruling.

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