Facing the death penalty, Christopher Monfort tried to do the deed himself - attempting to commit suicide, and getting a TV set as a reward. He also claims he was insane when he allegedly killed Seattle police officer Tim Brenton on Halloween night 2009. Now - a pill-popping paraplegic with a bullet lodged in his back, fighting off pain, infections, pressure sores and declining health - the question is whether Monfort, if convicted of aggravated first-degree murder, will live long enough to attend his execution, and if the millions of dollars being spent to carry it out will be worth it.
The answer is a definite no, say his attorneys. Absolutely yes, say prosecutors, in today's Seattle Weekly cover story.
"His life expectancy is substantially shorter than most 44-year-olds," says defense attorney Carl Luer. Monfort has "roughly 14 1/2 to 15 years of life" left Luer estimates. That's hardly long enough for his appeals to run their course and an execution to take place.
Monfort is one of three accused murderers currently facing the death penalty in King County, a rare string of ongoing capital prosecutions that have already cost taxpayers more than $9 million without a single trial being held.
King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg thinks the murders are the kind of cases the penalty was reserved for, and that money shouldn't be the deciding factor. He blames the "death-penalty industry " for the high costs, claiming most defense attorneys "are ideologically opposed to the death penalty and want to prove how slow and how expensive it is."
But costly and slow is how justice has always unfolded in capital cases. The current poster boy for that is former death-row inmate Darold Stenson, 59, of Clallam County. He was given the death penalty for the 1993 shooting deaths of his wife, Denise, and his business partner, Frank Hoerner.
On appeal the case was reversed last year by the state Supreme Court, which found that prosecutors had wrongly withheld evidence. Stenson is now back in the county jail, without bail, awaiting a new death-penalty trial that the county says will cost up to $1.4 million.
It's a 20-year-old case that has already cost millions, notes defense attorney Todd Gruenhagen, "and they're starting at the beginning again."