Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes may just figure he’s got nothing to lose. At a court hearing in February, the suspect in two deputies’ killings announced to the judge, assembled attorneys and reporters that he had committed the crime.
“I killed them cops,” he said during the Feb. 4 hearing, then demanded an execution date.
On Friday, the 34-year-old continued his routine, strolling into Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White’s courtroom with a broad grin on his face.
Handcuffed and escorted by deputies, Bracamontes first announced that he’d like a cup of coffee. When that wasn’t forthcoming, he asked for water, which was provided in a small paper cup from a carafe at the defense table, where he sat with his lawyers and his wife, co-defendant Janelle Monroy.
As he did at the February hearing, during which he appeared to be enjoying himself so much that he bounced on his feet, Bracamontes ignored the typical legal niceties of the courtroom on Friday.
When White scheduled the next hearing in the case for May 29, Bracamontes announced that he couldn’t make it. “I’m busy,” he said.
During the entire hearing, Bracamontes smiled and looked around at the courtroom audience and reporters seated in the jury box. His 38-year-old wife did not speak during the hearing, which lasted only a few minutes, and the judge and lawyers in the case appeared largely to ignore Bracamontes.
Neither suspect has yet entered a plea in the killings of sheriff’s deputies Danny Oliver and Michael Davis Jr. during a daylong shooting spree on Oct. 24 that began in Sacramento and ended in Auburn.
Bracamontes faces the death penalty and is charged with counts of first-degree murder with five special circumstance allegations, including killing law enforcement officers, committing multiple murders, murder to avoid arrest, and murder during a carjacking or attempted carjacking.
His wife, who is charged with two counts of murder and 13 other felony counts, faces up to life in prison.
So far, Bracamontes has been allowed to speak out without restraint, but one veteran Sacramento attorney said he doubts that such forbearance will continue.
“Steve White is a really superb trial judge,” said defense attorney Don Heller, who is not connected to the case but whose son is a deputy with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, where Oliver served. “He’s going to give him a little bit of leash, and then he’s going to reel him in.”
Outbursts from defendants are not all that rare, Heller noted, adding that he has seen them both as a prosecutor and defense attorney.
Heller said he prosecuted a rape case in New York in which the defendant had to be repeatedly gagged and bound because of his outbursts, which began when he overturned the defense table. Heller also prosecuted would-be presidential assassin Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme in federal court in Sacramento.
Fromme, who pointed a pistol at then-President Gerald R. Ford in Capitol Park in 1975, posed so many difficulties during trial that she ended up in a cell behind the courtroom listening to the proceedings on a speaker for most of the case.
Some clients pose problems in court simply because they do not understand the procedures, Heller said.
“And then you get the conniving type that realize they’re going down, that they committed a very serious crime, and they’re trying to delay the inevitable,” he said.
Other times, defendants play to television and still cameras in courtrooms, although no cameras were allowed into court on Friday.
Bill Portanova, another prominent Sacramento defense attorney and former prosecutor, said the best way to handle such clients is to act immediately.
“When a client is prone to outbursts, it’s best to bark them right back down immediately,” Portanova said. “Like a spoiled child, the more rope you give them the more they take advantage ...
“They’re doing themselves a lot of damage. Judges are human beings. Judges can only put up with so much disrespect in their courtrooms.”
Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.