Monday, February 6, 2023
Feb. 6, 2023

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With conflicting stories of father’s death, Whatcom man charged with first-degree murder

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BELLINGHAM — An Everson man said he shot and killed his father in self-defense, but prosecutors and law enforcement now think the January shooting may have been premeditated.

Charges for Ethan Knight, 21, were recently amended to first-degree murder (domestic violence) after further investigation found cellphone video footage that undercuts the argument that he was fighting off a drunken attack from his father, Whatcom County Superior Court records show.

Knight was initially charged with second-degree murder (domestic violence) for the Jan. 6 death of his 46-year-old father, Michael Knight.

Ethan Knight’s first-degree murder charge, which alleges he acted with premeditated intent, includes aggravating factors for allegedly committing the crime against a family or household member and while armed with a firearm, according to court records.

Ethan Knight pleaded not guilty to the amended charges Nov. 16. His jury trial has tentatively been scheduled for March 14, 2023, court records state.

As of Nov. 28, Ethan Knight was out of custody in lieu of $25,000 cash bail, which was posted by his mother in late January. The court previously reduced Ethan Knight’s bail from $1 million down to $250,000, with a $25,000 cash alternative, after his public defense attorneys said no danger existed of him committing a violent crime if released, The Bellingham Herald previously reported.

Ethan Knight and his mother initially claimed he shot his father after his father had been drinking all day and ultimately pointed a gun at him. But investigators now say the evidence shows that the father was not armed the night of the shooting, and that Ethan Knight’s guns had previously been removed from the home due to safety concerns, according to court records.

The shooting

Earlier this summer, a major crimes detective with the Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office requested Ethan Knight’s charges be upgraded after reviews of cellphone footage taken before and after the shooting revealed Ethan Knight may have entered his mother’s bedroom that night with the intent to kill his father — whom he told multiple times he was going to die, the court records state.

Shortly after 11:30 p.m. on Jan. 6, Everson police officers and Whatcom sheriff’s deputies responded to the 600 block of Prairie Court in Everson after Ethan Knight’s mother called 911 and said her son had shot her ex-husband, Michael Knight.

Michael Knight’s body was found on the bed in the master bedroom, and Ethan Knight and his mother were unarmed in the living room when law enforcement arrived. Ethan Knight’s gun was found on the dining room table, records show.

On the night of the shooting, Ethan Knight’s mother was allegedly upset with him after he had eaten a portion of the family pizza. Michael Knight verbally confronted his son in his bedroom and the pair got into an argument, according to court records.

Ethan Knight’s mother told investigators her son had gone to bed, but came into her room multiple times for help, including asking her to call 911, because his father was bothering him and acting aggressively, records state.

Eventually that evening, Ethan Knight allegedly went into his mother’s bedroom with an unholstered, loaded handgun and asked his mother to again call 911. When he entered the bedroom, Ethan started a video recording on his mother’s cellphone and placed the phone face-down on a nightstand. The recording captured audio of an argument and the shooting, according to court records.

Michael Knight was allegedly crying and frightened that his son had a gun. Multiple times Michael Knight asked his son why he had a gun, told his son to put the weapon down and said his son was pointing the firearm at him. Ethan Knight allegedly told his father he was “gonna die” and that he was either going to be shot or go to jail, and would die if the cops didn’t show up, the records show.

Ethan Knight’s mother then told him to go to his room and he told her to “get down,” before allegedly firing four rounds at his father, court records state.

Another recording made on Ethan Knight’s cellphone immediately following the shooting shows part of a gun barrel, captures audio of his mother calling 911 and him speaking with her, and the slide of a gun being racked, the records state.

Michael Knight was pronounced dead at the scene. Detectives determined he was shot three times, including once in the face and at least once in the left side of his body. Four spent shell casings were found near his body, and a bullet hole was found in the lower part of the bedroom wall, according to court records.

Neighbors told detectives they heard two to three bangs coming from the residence that night and toxicology reports showed Michael Knight was intoxicated at the time of his death, the records show.

The Whatcom County Medical Examiner’s office determined the shots to Michael Knight’s body were consistent with him being shot at while reaching toward his son. The mother said her ex-husband attempted to grab the gun from their son during the incident, court records state.

Safety reasons

Detectives say evidence in the case suggests Michael Knight was not armed the night of the shooting — which Ethan Knight and his mother previously claimed — and that guns had been removed from the family home at least two weeks prior to the shooting, according to court records.

Interviews with friends and family revealed that Ethan Knight’s guns had been removed from the home and kept with a separate family member “for safety reasons,” according to court records.

In a text message sent in December 2021, Michael Knight asked his son what he wanted for Christmas, to which Ethan Knight responded “I’d be fine with just getting my guns back,” court records state.

Family and friends had previously told investigators that Ethan Knight practiced gun safety “at all times,” and that he didn’t keep guns’ chambers loaded at home, didn’t carry guns inside the home and that he transported long guns in a case.

Detectives said evidence also suggests Michael Knight didn’t have a firearm, nor did he load or point one the evening of the shooting.

Reenactments done by crime scene investigators with the sheriff’s office could not replicate Michael Knight grabbing, loading and pointing a gun in the time and manner detailed by the mother, who previously told investigators her ex-husband pushed her out of the way to grab a handgun that was in the nightstand and that she heard him load it.

No sounds that would have been made by those actions were heard on the audio recording, and no evidence was found that Michael Knight had assaulted anyone at the home on the night of the shooting, the records show.

Michael Knight had been estranged from the family and had a history of alcohol use and domestic violence, the mother told investigators. She said her ex-husband had recently been at the home in an attempt to “reconnect.”

Law enforcement determined Michael Knight moved back to Washington a year prior and had visited his ex-wife and son during that time. Since his return, no 911 domestic violence calls had been made at the home, the court records state.

Whatcom sheriff’s detectives were ultimately unable to determine why Ethan Knight brought the loaded firearm into his mother’s bedroom in January, except to assault his father with it, the court records state.

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