Crime - Sacto 911

‘Evil monster. Illegal alien. Deported felon.’ Did media cost accused cop killer a fair trial?

Shooting rampage unfolds across Sacramento region

Luis Bracamontes is accused of killing deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis in a daylong shooting rampage on Oct. 24, 2014.
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Luis Bracamontes is accused of killing deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis in a daylong shooting rampage on Oct. 24, 2014.

Media coverage of accused cop killer Luis Bracamontes has referred to his deportations to Mexico 224 times.

He has been called an “evil monster” in at least eight stories, and “evil in heart” two dozen times.

Bracamontes has been the subject of coverage so overwhelming since the October 2014 slayings of two Sacramento-area deputies that he cannot get a fair trial in the county, and the case must be moved elsewhere, a nationally known expert testified Tuesday.

“It’s a very high level of coverage,” retired Chico State Professor Edward Bronson testified in Sacramento Superior Court as a witness for Bracamontes’ public defenders.

Bronson has consulted on pretrial publicity and change of venue issues in cases involving the Boston Marathon bombing, the Unabomber prosecution of Theodore Kaczynski, the assailant in the shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., and the Oklahoma City bombing case.

The Bracamontes case coverage, he said, ranks among some of the highest he has encountered. Compared to 47 California appellate cases in which the number of media stories has been counted, Bronson said, “the Bracamontes case would rank first among them.”

Bracamontes, facing a death penalty prosecution in the slayings of Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer Deputy Michael Davis Jr., has been the subject of nearly 300 newspaper stories, 463 television news clips and more than 1,500 Internet postings, Bronson said under questioning from public defender Jeffrey Barbour.

Barbour and fellow public defender Norm Dawson have been pushing to get Judge Steve White to order a change of venue in the case, something the prosecution opposes.

Bronson said he had done a detailed analysis of the newspaper stories, particularly those from The Sacramento Bee, and found references to Bracamontes that could affect the ability to find fair-minded jurors who have not had their opinions influenced by the media.

His analysis found 31 references describing Bracamontes’ alleged actions as “horrible, horrific or horribly.”

Bronson also noted that coverage has included references to information that could not be admitted in court but could affect potential jurors, including news of Bracamontes’ felony record and the fact that he was in the United States illegally from Mexico.

Such coverage “could be very prejudicial,” Bronson said.

He added that he understood the unusual nature of the case – involving the slayings of two deputies and the fact that Bracamontes has blurted out in court that he killed them.

“I looked for things in the coverage that seemed to reflect the view that the defendant is guilty as charged,” Bronson said. “That wasn’t hard in this case.”

Because of such outbursts, lawyers may be somewhat limited in what they can ask a potential juror, he said.

“You can ask them, ‘Did the fact that my client confessed in open court prejudice your in any way?’ ” Bronson said.

The effort to move the hearing comes as Bracamontes’ lawyers also are asking for permission to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity. Bracamontes has said that he wants to plead guilty and receive an execution date.

The hearing, which began Monday and is expected to continue into Wednesday, went off without any outbursts or odd remarks from Bracamontes, who sat quietly throughout much of Tuesday’s proceedings.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam