Shooting rampage unfolds across Sacramento region
After two and a half days of behaving himself in court, accused cop killer Luis Bracamontes erupted in a profane tirade Wednesday, saying he was glad he killed two Sacramento-area deputies in October 2014 and wanted to kill more.
"I'm going to kill all you motherf------ if I get the chance," Bracamontes said as deputies began shackling him to a chair in a Sacramento Superior courtroom after a lunch break during a hearing in his case.
"You f------ want me to ask you for mercy, you're f------ wasting your f------ time," Bracamontes said as his lawyers and prosecutors sat nearby and half a dozen deputies watched over him.
"I'm glad I killed them motherf------ and I don't regret it at all," he said, adding that he didn't care about the families of Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer Deputy Michael Davis Jr.
"F--- the f------ justice, f--- the f------ country," Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, said as his public defenders tried to quiet him down.
Seated at a table nearby, his wife and co-defendant, Janelle Monroy, dissolved into tears. Attorney Peter Kmeto asked that her appearance be waived, and she was escorted out.
"This is too emotionally upsetting for her," Kmeto said.
Bracamontes remained defiant, apparently angry that his cuffs and chains were too tight.
Public defenders Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour sought to have Judge Steve White clear the courtroom until they could calm their client, but the judge declined. At the time, only the attorneys, court personnel, deputies, a witness and a Bee reporter were in the court.
Family and friends of the slain deputies had not yet been allowed into the fourth-floor courtroom. White calmly told Bracamontes that if he didn't stop he would be taken out of the courtroom and the hearing would continue without him.
He continued to swear, saying he didn't care, but appeared to calm down as the judge as asked deputies if they could loosen his restraints but keep him securely shackled.
The difficulty apparently began as deputies were returning Bracamontes from the lunch break. One deputy stood in court, radioing a message that the defendant had thrown water on him.
Bracamontes, who has erupted in previous court sessions – including times when he has confessed and asked to be executed – had remained calm and quiet through the hearing that began Monday and is to determine whether the trial should be moved out of Sacramento.
Barbour said he did not believe the hearing could go forward without the client present. He eventually told White that he believed Bracamontes had calmed to the point where the hearing could proceed.
"He's been perfect up until this point; I would suggest we see if we can present the testimony," he said.
The hearing then resumed. Ironically, it was held to determine whether news coverage of the case – and of Bracamontes' explosive tirades – has made it impossible to find an impartial jury.
White has so far not allowed cameras in the courtroom, so none of Bracamontes’ outbursts have been captured on video or replayed in the media.
Before his tirade Wednesday, the hearing turned at times toward race and the fact that he is an illegal immigrant. A trial consultant for the defense made the point that in an era of “Trumpism” and criticism of immigrants during last year’s presidential campaign, finding an impartial jury in Sacramento would be difficult.
“That was, to me, a major concern in the coverage of the case,” testified retired Chico State University Professor Edward Bronson.
He put it more bluntly in a declaration filed earlier in court:
“Mr. Bracamontes is the poster child of the embodiment that everybody in the community fears and hates,” Bronson declared.
As that statement was read aloud, Bracamontes sat at the defense table with a slightly bemused look on his face, but said nothing.
Bracamontes’ public defenders have claimed in court filings that their client’s background poses a difficulty.
“Mr. Bracamontes has been demonized in the local media,” Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour wrote. “He is portrayed as an outcast, not only from this community and also from this state but from this country.”
Bronson is trying to help the defense convince the judge to move the case to another county, and spent part of Tuesday outlining how much media coverage, particularly stories in The Sacramento Bee, have influenced potential jurors.
But Placer County prosecutor Dave Tellman spent Wednesday morning attempting to portray Bronson’s assessments as exaggerated.
He noted that other cases have had far more coverage, and deconstructed the defense claim that nearly 300 newspaper stories have focused on Bracamontes and tainted the Sacramento jury pool. Instead, Tellman, noted, 200 of those ran in smaller, mostly out-of-county publications that would not have been read by a potential juror.
He also noted that Bronson’s study found the rate of stories being published has dwindled since the 2014 slayings, when 161 stories about the case ran that year.
By 2016, the total was down to 35, and until recently the total in 2017 was 14.
The defense already has claimed that the political climate in the age of President Trump and his immigration policies makes Bracamontes’ hopes of getting a fair trial difficult, and has noted that in the president’s speech to Congress earlier this year Trump introduced the widow of one of the deputies.
The prosecution rejects those arguments. Tellman, in questioning Bronson’s conclusions, noted that Sacramento “is a sanctuary city in a sanctuary state.”
He also pointed out that Bronson, a nationally known trial expert, is opposed to the death penalty and in March 2014 gave a presentation in Chico titled “My Life Fighting the Death Penalty.”
Bracamontes faces the death penalty if convicted, but Bronson responded that his personal views don’t affect his objectivity in his work.
“I like to think as an expert I’m trained to recognize those biases,” he said.
The judge has not indicated when he might decide whether to move the trial, which is set to begin in October, but the defense already has a backup plan in mind.
If the judge rejects a change of venue, they are asking him to order a survey of Sacramento’s eligible jurors to determine how many are Hispanic.
They say no such data currently exists, and that of the 1,033,076 county residents aged 18 and above only 191,197 – 18.5 percent – are of Hispanic descent.
The survey would be taken by handing out a one-page questionnaire to residents summoned to jury duty during a 90-day period beginning July 1, something the defense claims will show that the pool of eligible jurors in Sacramento “underrepresents jury eligible Hispanics in the community.”
If that can be shown, they argue, it violates Bracamontes’ constitutional right for a jury pool that “is ethnically representative of the community.”