For Christopher Monfort, Death Penalty Case Likely to Go on As Planned

Yesterday, alleged cop killer Christopher Monfort’s death penalty trial was scheduled to begin on September 5. Today, after Governor Jay Inslee’s dramatic announcement that he is imposing a moratorium on capital punishment, Monfort’s trial is still scheduled for September 5.

“I’m proceeding on the assumption that it doesn’t change anything,” says Monfort lead attorney Carl Luer of the moratorium. Luer says he even assumes Monfort, should he be found guilty, will undergo the standard second phase of a death penalty case, in which jurors decide whether a defendant will live or die. Monfort is accused of killing Seattle police officer Tim Brenton on Halloween night 2009.

Make no mistake: Luer applauds Inslee’s decision as a “wise and courageous move” that he thinks will jump-start a statewide conversation about whether we want to do away with capital punishment. As Luer recognizes, however, the governor’s executive order is temporary. Once a new governor comes in, executions can begin again. And that means that pending death penalty cases will be prosecuted as such unless Inslee’s decision sparks a change of heart among county prosecutors.

In a press conference this morning, Inslee seemed to suggest that’s what he is hoping for.

Reacting to the news, however, King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg gave no inkling that he is changing his stance toward Monfort and two other defendants his office is currently prosecuting as capital cases. “The legal implications of the Governor’s ‘reprieve policy’ appear limited; our law remains unchanged,” Satterberg said in a statement. He has not yet responded to a query about implications for the death penalty cases handled by his office.

Notably, though, Satterberg didn’t react by rallying behind the death penalty. Rather, he added in his statement: “Let’s have an informed public debate and let the citizens of Washington decide if we should keep capital punishment in our state.” With the comments starting to roll in from public officials, many of them praising Inslee’s decision, that already seems to be happening.

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