Crime - Sacto 911

'He's a coward,' says sister of slain deputy after Luis Bracamontes gets the death penalty

Luis Bracamontes got the sentence Tuesday that he has claimed he wanted all along: the death penalty for the 2014 slayings of Sacramento sheriff's Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer sheriff's Detective Michael Davis Jr.

The verdicts, announced after four hours of deliberation by a Sacramento Superior Court jury, came in a brief hearing before Judge Steve White during which Bracamontes spent the entire time smiling broadly, sometimes at the families of the dead deputies.

Whatever effect he was hoping for didn't work. Elated family members of the deputies said afterward that they wanted Bracamontes in the courtroom, and they wanted him to see them smiling back at him as he heard the verdict.

"I was smiling back at him purposely," Jeri Oliver, Danny Oliver's mother, said after court.

She said she Davis' mother, Debbie McMahon, had agreed that was how they would handle the delivery of the verdict. "We decided we were going to smile at him for a change."

Bracamontes has acted out throughout the trial, cursing at the families and jurors and threatening to kill more officers. At times, he has insisted he wanted to skip trial and move directly to execution.

Family members of the deputies said Tuesday they believe it was all an act.

"He's a coward," said Oliver's sister, Phyllis Sylvia.

Bracamontes grinned and silently clapped his hands after the verdict was delivered, while public defenders Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour sat grim faced on either side of him in the courtroom. Later he shook hands with his lawyers as deputies prepared to lead him out of the room.

Until Tuesday's verdict, family members and law enforcement officials were hesitant to speak out on the record about the case, but with the verdict in place they appeared relieved and unrestrained.

"I feel free to say it now, he's a despicable and evil human being and the death penalty is totally appropriate," said Placer Sheriff Devon Bell, who hugged Davis' mother in court before the jury came in.

Sacramento Sheriff Scott Jones said the verdict won't erase the loss of Oliver or Davis, but that it "is a step along the road toward justice."

Others praised the prosecutors – Rod Norgaard from Sacramento and Dave Tellman from Placer County – for helping shepherd the case to its conclusion.

"I was ecstatic," Oliver's sister said. "We couldn't have asked for a better team of DAs or a better jury."

Juror Sam Wood, 56, of Sacramento, spent five and a half months on the case and said that in the end the facts against Bracamontes "were just so powerful."

"There were just so many facts," he said. "It was not something that you could go one way of the other on."

Wood added that jurors took their responsibility seriously, and did not allow Bracamontes' outbursts – which included threats against them – to influence their decision.

"It wasn't like everybody got in there and agreed to one outcome or another right away," Wood said. "We did work at it."

Bracamontes is due to return to court April 25 for a formal sentencing by White at a hearing during which family members of the slain deputies are expected to address the court and Bracamontes.

The jury's verdict comes three and a half years after Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, set out on a murderous Oct. 24, 2014, rampage that killed Oliver and Davis.

The crime spree began in the parking lot of a now-demolished Motel 6 and ended in a cul de sac in Auburn, and was followed by years of court hearings in which Bracamontes engaged in profane outbursts and threats directed at the judge, his own lawyers and deputies.

During trial in the guilt phase, he turned his attention directly to jurors, threatening the and hurling the "N-word" at an African American juror. After consulting with that juror, White determined that he could remain on the panel and deliberate fairly.

Despite his bluster, Bracamontes never took the witness stand in either the guilt or penalty phase, and spent much of the trial in a holding cell where he was able to watch from a video feed.

He appeared to time his outbursts to ensure he would be ordered removed from court, especially when the defense brought in his family members from Mexico to testify about his difficult childhood. He routinely called the judge names before each session at which relatives were to testify, sparking speculation that he wanted to avoid having to be seen by them.

Whether Bracamontes ever will actually face execution is questionable. California has not executed a condemned inmate since Clarence Ray Allen was put to death by lethal injection on Jan. 17, 2006.

Allen was one of only 13 inmates executed at San Quentin since 1992, when California resumed capital punishment with the gas chamber execution of Robert Alton Harris.

Legal challenges over the state's lethal injection methods and other court fights have postponed other executions, although death penalty advocates say they are hopeful that the state is inching closer to resuming executions.

California currently has 746 inmates on death row, and the average time a condemned inmate spends there is 17.9 years, according to the state corrections department.

White told the jurors in his jury instructions that they could not consider the likelihood of Bracamontes being executed in making a decision on his punishment.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee