The decision by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White to ban cameras in the pretrial proceedings against admitted cop killer Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes is a slap not only to the Sacramento-area news media, it’s an insult to the public’s right to know.
White’s fear of pretrial publicity already has been trumped by Bracamontes’ widely reported mockery and mugging in the courtroom. The defendant is well known to have disrupted the proceedings with flip remarks, including his in-court admission of guilt: “I killed them cops. I did it. I’m guilty. I want a date of execution. Execute me whenever you guys are ready.”
In our system of justice, all defendants deserve a fair trial. Bracamontes isn’t the last, worst or most notorious to come before the court. Limiting access to the proceedings, however, is counterproductive to an informed public.
We are living in an increasingly visual and social media world where pictures are worth far more than a thousand words. Courtroom sketches don’t truly convey Bracamontes’ seemingly cavalier attitude toward the judicial process. Keeping cameras out may be the preference of defense attorneys, but it also covers up his courtroom demeanor, which may, in itself, shed light on what happened on the day he opened fire on two deputies.
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Also, this is a death penalty case involving the slaying of multiple law enforcement officers, Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. The public’s interest is profound here, both because of the seriousness of the charges and because the victims were public servants. If any case deserves the attention of as many people as possible, it’s this one.
Transparency in government, even in emotionally-charged cases, should be a public right and not be thwarted on a judicial pretext. Due process isn’t some abstraction; the court is there as a means for the community to weigh a life-and-death matter, not to head off potential legal challenges or protect delicate sensibilities from the facts of human behavior. We need to see Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes for what he is.
Letting cameras into this trial is your right, not just the news media’s. That lens is your witness. Judge White should immediately lift the camera ban before the next hearing on May 29.