A Sacramento judge Friday rejected efforts to move the death penalty trial for accused cop killer Luis Bracamontes out of Sacramento, saying he believed it was possible to find a fair jury despite the amount of media coverage the case has generated.
“I concede without reservation that there was a tremendous amount of media on this case,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White said. “However, that media was very much associated with the earliest parts of his case.”
White said that, if during jury selection he detects that there is a bias against Bracamontes that cannot be overcome, he would entertain a defense motion or decide on his own to move the case.
But he added that he was not convinced Bracamontes’ public defenders had shown in their arguments that their client cannot get a fair trial.
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“This is a large county, three years have passed, the articles have slowed,” White said, adding that unlike cases of past years there are no longer newspaper boxes on every corner “with headlines blazing facing passers-by” that could influence potential jurors.
White noted that many people get their news from their smartphones and typically select what they want to read rather than absorbing a steady stream of coverage about a single case.
White’s decision came after a morning of arguments during which a Bracamontes public defender implored White to move the trial, saying publicity about the case has convinced much of the potential jury pool that he is guilty.
“This is a once-in-a-generation-type case,” public defender Norm Dawson told White.
Dawson said there has not been a case with such notoriety in Sacramento since the 1993 trial of landlady Dorothea Puente, who eventually was convicted of three murders of her tenants in a trial that was moved to Monterey.
He argued that nonstop coverage of the October 2014 rampage and subsequent stories on memorials for the slain officers is seared into the memories of potential jurors, and that the ongoing debate over immigration in California has to be considered because Bracamontes is an illegal immigrant from Mexico.
“This has been as politicized an event as there is,” Dawson argued.
Prosecutor Dave Tellman rejected those arguments, saying most of the coverage occurred nearly three years ago, when Bracamontes allegedly killed Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer Deputy Michael Davis Jr. in a daylong spree of violence that spread from Sacramento to Auburn.
Bracamontes, who last week interrupted a with a profane tirade during which he said he wanted to kill more deputies, sat quietly through Friday morning’s hearing, smiling and yawning at times but not speaking.
His trial currently is scheduled to begin in October, but that may be delayed.