Accused cop killer's mental state debated in Sacramento court hearing
Luis Bracamontes, a suspect in the killing of two deputies, insisted Friday that he is guilty and wants to be sentenced to death, then threatened to kill his lawyers during an explosive court hearing that ended with deputies holding him by the scruff of his neck until he calmed down and was escorted back to jail.
The hearing, which was called to determine whether Bracamontes would be allowed to fire his public defenders and represent himself at trial, proceeded peacefully until Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White denied Bracamontes’ request, saying the suspect is mentally fit to stand trial but still has mental issues that prevent him from acting as his own lawyer.
“I just want to plead guilty, I want to plead guilty and get it over and done with in this case,” Bracamontes told the judge, adding that he believes his public defenders – Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour – are “incompetent, irresponsible and disrespectful.”
“I want them out of my case, period,” Bracamontes said. “I know I’m guilty of what I did. You guys have more than enough evidence to prove what I did.
“What they’re doing right now is delaying the process. They don’t know what they’re doing.”
Bracamontes’ lawyers had tried to close the hearing to the media and public before it began, but after an objection by Sacramento Bee attorney Steve Burns the judge ordered it to remain open.
That allowed spectators to witness the latest in what has been a series of outbursts by the suspect since his arrest more than two years ago.
White, who previously held hearings at which Bracamontes was deemed competent to stand trial, told the suspect that some defendants can be allowed to act as their own lawyers, even in death penalty cases. But, White added, Bracamontes falls into a specific category of defendants with mental issues that preclude him from representing himself.
“I am absolutely certain, Mr. Bracamontes, that you are not capable of representing yourself, and I don’t say that lightly,” the judge told him.
Later, White added that allowing such a move “would turn the proceedings into an undignified sham, and we’re not going to do that.”
By then, Bracamontes, a Mexican citizen who was in this country illegally at the time of his arrest, was visibly agitated, muttering profanities as Barbour and Dawson tried to reason with him.
White told Bracamontes he has the right to have a hearing on whether he can fire his lawyers and replace them.
As Barbour and Dawson sat trying to reason with their client, who was seated between them wearing waist shackles and a red jail jumpsuit, Bracamontes began to grow angry.
“Shut the f--- up,” he told them. “I want to kill one of you motherf------.”
At that point, two Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies moved in and grabbed him by the collar, making certain he remained in his chair at the defense table until the judge ended the hearing.
“All right, Mr. Bracamontes, let’s go,” one said to him as they led him through the back of the fourth-floor courtroom.
Barbour and Dawson have argued in court filings that Bracamontes cannot be allowed to represent himself because he would try to plead guilty and seek a death penalty sentence.
Previous testimony has indicated Bracamontes believes God will not allow him to be executed, and that poison from a lethal injection procedure will turn to vitamins.
The public defenders insisted they could not allow Bracamontes to plead guilty because he cannot fathom the fact that it would lead to him facing execution.
“He simply does not comprehend the end game,” Dawson told the judge.
Bracamontes is charged in the Oct. 24, 2014, slayings of Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, 47, and Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr., 42.
The deputies were gunned down during a daylong crime spree that spread from Sacramento to Auburn and left one bystander and a deputy wounded as Bracamontes allegedly carjacked a number of vehicles and fired at officers with an AR-15 rifle.
Bracamontes, 36, was accompanied by his wife, Janelle Monroy, 40, authorities say. Both have been in custody since the day of the shootings, and Bracamontes’ lawyers have been trying to close portions of the court proceedings ever since without success.
Barbour and Dawson have questioned their client’s mental competence and have said his trial must be moved out of Sacramento because of the massive amount of publicity the slayings received.
They also have failed to control his behavior, which has included staring and joking at reporters, complaining that the hearings are taking “too long” and, at one previous point, loudly announcing that he had killed the deputies and wanted to be executed.
White has ordered both defendants to face trial starting Oct. 16.
The judge has made it clear that he will not entertain further delays in the case. On Friday, he agreed to postpone the filing of a change of venue motion by the defense until Feb. 17, but only with the understanding that the trial date will not be moved back.