With confessed cop killer Luis Bracamontes watching quietly from the defense table, prosecutors began a methodical closing argument Thursday designed to send him to the death chamber at San Quentin.
“By the time Luis Bracamontes and his wife had made it to Sacramento, he had thought about killing ...” Placer County prosecutor Dave Tellman told the jury. “He had nothing but hate.”
There is little suspense about whether Bracamontes is guilty. The defendant has blurted out repeatedly that he killed two Sacramento-area deputies on Oct. 24, 2014, and his own lawyers have conceded he is responsible for their deaths.
On Thursday, they did it again.
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“He shot both of them,” public defender Norm Dawson told the jurors. “That’s a tragic fact that we do not dispute in any way.”
But, Dawson argued, jurors should consider evidence that Bracamontes’ actions may have been influenced by the high level of methamphetamine in his system at the time of his rampage.
“Mr. Bracamontes clearly was not in his right mind,” Dawson said. “His mind was altered.”
Dawson tried to humanize his client, an illegal immigrant who repeatedly re-entered the country after being deported. He told jurors that Bracamontes was introduced to methamphetamine by his wife, who dabbled with it to lose weight, and that before he became addicted he had been working two jobs as a painter and landscaper, was paying his bills and trying to become a homeowner.
“He’s paying his taxes, he’s doing what you do,” Dawson said.
Dawson argued that Bracamontes became paranoid from the drug use, began to have hallucinations and was suicidal.
“People are out to get him,” Dawson said. “People and cops. I’m not going to sugarcoat that. He said it.”
The paranoia increased as he and his wife drove across the Nevada desert from Salt Lake City to Sacramento, Dawson said, with Bracamontes ordering his wife to first throw their cellphones out of the car window and then her iPad because he thought they were being tracked. Even then, he became convinced his car was bugged, Dawson said.
Bracamontes smoked methamphetamine all night long before his crime spree began and again in the morning, Dawson said, and after he killed the first deputy he told his wife, “I did not want to shoot that cop. I did not want to shoot that cop.”
Dawson stopped short of asking the jury to find his client not guilty, but reminded them that they can consider the degree to which meth use contributed to his actions.
That, in essence, was the extent of Bracamontes’ defense. His lawyers called no witnesses on his behalf, and Bracamontes did not testify in the case, which went to the jury for deliberations Thursday afternoon.
Prosecutors anticipated the suggestion that Bracamontes’ mind had been altered somehow, and Tellman later told jurors that testimony showed the amount of methamphetamine in Bracamontes’ system was “average.”
“This is not a person who is so grossly intoxicated that he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” Tellman said. “This is not drugs. This is who this man is. He is a man who is proud of killing.”
Tellman spent the morning attempting to show that Bracamontes acted in a decisive and intentional manner during the crime spree, which stretched from an Arden Way Motel 6 to a remote cul de sac in Auburn.
“This was a killing spree from start to finish...” Tellman said. “And he’s guilty of every count he’s charged with.”
The first killing – in which Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver was shot in the head in the motel parking lot as he approached Bracamontes’ car – was premeditated and intentional, Tellman argued.
“The defendant fired that gun that killed Danny Oliver,” Tellman said. “When he did so, he had the intent to kill.”
Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, are charged in the crime spree that left a motorist and another deputy gravely wounded.
Monroy, who faces murder and other charges in the slaying of Placer Detective Michael Davis Jr., is awaiting a verdict from a jury that began deliberations late Wednesday.
Her attorney, Pete Kmeto, has argued she was a victim of Bracamontes’ violent rages and helped carry a rifle that Bracamontes used to kill Davis only because she feared for her life.
Prosecutors dispute that, saying she was a willing participant and “the CEO” of the couple as they traveled from Salt Lake City to Sacramento.
Tellman and Sacramento prosecutor Rod Norgaard were intent on convincing the jurors that Bracamontes had long talked of killing police officers.
They also were trying to stave off the inevitable appeals that Bracamontes’ lawyers are expected to pursue with claims that their client is mentally ill. The defense has tried repeatedly in the past to enter a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but Bracamontes has refused to allow it and the judge has found Bracamontes competent to stand trial.
Bracamontes has loudly proclaimed through court hearings for years that he killed the deputies, has threatened to kill more, and has threatened the deputies’ families and jurors.
Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White banished Bracamontes from the courtroom for a few days, ordering him to watch the proceedings from a cell with a video feed.
But he has allowed Bracamontes back into court this week, and the defendant is no longer making any effort to wear street clothes, as he did at the start of trial.
On Thursday, he appeared in a white T-shirt and striped jail trousers. Bracamontes sat chained to a chair at the defense table with two deputies seated directly behind him, while Tellman stood with his back to him as he addressed jurors.
“We have done our best to leave you with absolutely no doubt as to what happened,” Tellman told jurors, noting that Bracamontes has repeatedly threatened his jailers as he awaited trial.
He recounted Bracamontes’ profane outbursts at deputies in the jails he has been housed in and his written threats that the Sinaloa cartel is watching them.
“This is unadulterated hate,” Tellman said.