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Fast-food shooting trial tossed

Mistrial declared as judge deems attorney incapable

After a half-day of testimony, a judge declared a mistrial Tuesday in the case of a Spokane man accused of shooting up a drive-through lane at a downtown fast-food restaurant.

Superior Court Judge Robert Austin abruptly ended the trial, telling Lamont Brooks that his attorney, Brad Plumb, is incapable of handling “these very serious and very important charges.”

Prosecutors have charged Brooks with seven counts of attempted murder for firing more than 20 shots with a 9 mm pistol at the Jack in the Box restaurant on West Third shortly after midnight on Dec. 19.

Some of the bullets narrowly missed seven people sitting in three cars, authorities said.

Brooks, who has pleaded innocent, insists he wasn’t there when the shots were fired.

He faces up to 120 years in prison if convicted, but when Austin offered to appoint a county public defender, Brooks refused.

“I’m cool with the attorney I have now,” said Brooks, 21. “I don’t want no public defender. They’ll just work against me with the prosecutor.”

The turn of events Tuesday left prosecutors, the defendant’s family, public defenders and witnesses unsure what will happen next.

Plumb, a private attorney based in the Spokane Valley, said he is defending Brooks for free. He said the reason for that arrangement is “personal and confidential.”

In 1998, Plumb successfully defended Brooks against attempted robbery and second-degree theft charges, winning acquittals on both counts.

Despite Tuesday’s mistrial, Plumb said he still would like to represent Brooks.

“I am an experienced felony criminal trial attorney,” he said.

In fact, because Plumb is a private attorney, Brooks is free to retain him, Austin said after declaring the mistrial.

Minutes after Brooks had left the court, Plumb called Austin’s comments slanderous.

He added that the judge’s negative comments give him the option of filing an affidavit of prejudice, forcing the next trial to be heard by another Spokane judge.

Testimony in the trial started Tuesday. Austin’s ruling came after jurors had heard two witnesses say they were sure Brooks was the man who had fired a pistol at their cars.

The first witness, 23-year-old Jennifer Beam, said she saw a man running through the parking lot, looking behind at someone.

Beam, who had been sitting in the passenger seat at the drive-in, said that moments later, a second man ran by her window, firing three shots at the other person.

That gunman was Lamont Brooks, Beam told the jury.

Beam said she and two friends in the car ducked as several bullets ripped through the side windows.

The second witness, driver Angela Steele, also testified Tuesday that Brooks was the gunman. But Steele and the other passenger, Jennifer McWatters, both admitted to jurors that they initially couldn’t pick Brooks out of a photo lineup provided by police.

During Tuesday’s lunch recess, Plumb told Austin that he had hurt his client’s chances of receiving a fair trial by making a serious mistake during his opening statement.

Plumb had argued that Brooks couldn’t have been the gunman because he had been baby-sitting his 6-year-old niece that night.

But Plumb suddenly admitted that the purported alibi was based on the wrong date. The shooting spree occurred between 12:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. on Dec. 19, but Brooks wasn’t baby-sitting until 9 that evening, Plumb told the judge.

After lunch, Austin cited that blunder and two others as evidence that Plumb “has very little understanding of criminal procedure.”

On Monday, Plumb wasn’t sure how many juror challenges he was entitled to. Austin also said Plumb was “having difficulty in knowing how to introduce evidence.”

Without saying so directly, Austin was warning that an appellate court might force the county to try the case a second time if Plumb did not prepare an adequate defense.

Plumb, 43, received a three-year suspension after being convicted in 1994 of welfare fraud. He and his wife, Lisa, were convicted of failing to report income while receiving public assistance.

Last year, Plumb tried unsuccessfully to place his name on the ballot for Spokane County District Court judge. A Spokane judge ruled he could not run because he had not formally had his voting rights restored before filing a declaration of candidacy.

Brooks has been held in the Spokane County Jail since being arrested several days after the shooting spree.

Prosecutors say Brooks was a passenger in a white Cadillac in the drive-through line.

Investigators say the driver was Nathaniel Dishneau, Brooks’ friend. Dishneau also faces seven counts of attempted murder as an accomplice. His trial is scheduled to start June 7.

Deputy Prosecutor Mark Cipolla, in his opening statement, said a man in another car got into an argument with Brooks and Dishneau while both cars were in the drive-through lane.

Brooks and the unidentified passenger of the second car both got out of their cars, Cipolla said.

A few minutes later, he said, Brooks fired several times at the man who ran out of the parking lot.

Walking back to the Cadillac, Brooks fired his pistol another 15 to 20 times, Cipolla told the jury.

On Monday, Plumb and Cipolla had interviewed 50 prospective jurors before selecting the group that started hearing testimony Tuesday morning. The trial had been expected to last seven to nine days.

No date has been set for Brooks’ new trial.

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