'My entire life is gone': Family feels ripples of death penalty case
With his life on the line, convicted cop killer Luis Bracamontes made another unconventional decision Monday: he opted not to attend the last day of a trial that will determine whether he gets the death penalty.
“He is not asking to be present, and we believe it is not in his best interest to be here,” public defender Norm Dawson told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White on Monday morning as closing arguments began.
The decision meant Bracamontes, who has been removed from court repeatedly for profane outbursts, missed the prosecution detailing in graphic fashion the damage the defendant caused during the Oct. 24, 2014, crime spree that killed two Sacramento-area deputies, Danny Oliver and Michael Davis Jr.
"We are all here this morning because Danny Oliver is not," Tellman told the jury of six men and six women as he methodically laid out the reasons for them to agree that Bracamontes deserves death rather than life in prison.
Tellman displayed family photos on two large screens in the courtroom of Oliver, a Sacramento sheriff's deputy, and Davis, a Placer County detective, and detailed the losses both families have endured. And he played a video shot at the Arden Way Motel 6 that showed the lifeless body of Oliver face up on the asphalt parking lot with a huge pool of blood from the shot to the forehead that Bracamontes fired at point-blank range to kill him.
"What is the fair punishment for a man who can do this?" Tellman asked. "What would be a fair and fitting punishment for someone who can reap such harm on these people, these families and these communities...?
"The only just verdict in this case is death."
Tellman urged the jurors to ignore the tearful testimony earlier in the month from Bracamontes' family members, reminding them that the relatives hadn't seen Bracamontes in years while jurors have seen him up close as he hurled threats at witnesses, officers, the judge and even the jury.
"They don't know Luis like you know Luis," Tellman said, adding that jurors should reject the defense that Bracamontes is mentally ill and endured an abusive childhood.
“It’s not mental illness at all, it’s who he is...," Tellman said. "He is who he is, and he’s pure evil.”
After more than two hours of argument from the prosecution, Tellman made a simple request: “I ask you to show the defendant as much compassion, sympathy and mercy as he showed Danny,” Tellman said. “Show him as much compassion, sympathy and mercy as he showed Mike.”
Public defender Norm Dawson took over and began his closing with one goal: convince at least one juror that Bracamontes deserves something of a break and should get life in prison.
As he has before, Dawson made clear that he and co-counsel Jeffrey Barbour aren't excusing what Bracamontes did.
“We’re not here to make excuses or justifications for Luis’ actions, we can’t do that, we wouldn’t," Dawson said. "Even his family and his friends found what he did unfathomable.”
But Dawson appealed to jurors to consider Bracamontes' difficult upbringing in a scrub desert village in Sinaloa, Mexico, where the family had no running water or latrine and whose father was a raging alcoholic.
He also repeated his argument that Bracamontes is mentally ill and could be helped in prison with the proper medication.
"You do not have to choose death," Dawson told the jurors.
Barbour completed the defense arguments at 4 p.m., appearing to choke up as he implored jurors to vote for life without parole rather than death. "Keep your hearts and minds open," Barbour said, adding, "Know he should not die at the hands of an executioner."
The case now goes to the same jury that found Bracamontes guilty on all counts – including two of murder – in February. It is also the same panel he threatened in court, including one instance where he hurled the "N-word" at an African American juror, an incident Tellman reminded them of Monday.
Bracamontes' wife, Janelle Monroy, was sentenced Friday by White to sentences that may keep her imprisoned for the rest of her life.
Monroy, 41, was convicted of murder in the Davis slaying and other crimes committed during the rampage despite the fact that she never fired a shot. Prosecutors had argued that she was as culpable as her husband and had helped move his AR-15 rifle – the weapon that killed Davis – from vehicle to vehicle as he carjacked his way from Sacramento to Auburn.