Nearly one year after two deputies were gunned down in an explosion of violence, a Sacramento judge on Friday ordered a series of hearings to determine whether the prime suspect is mentally fit to stand trial.
Superior Court Judge Steve White ordered a mental competency hearing to begin Nov. 20 for Luis Monroy Bracamontes, accused along with his wife in the Oct. 24 shooting spree that killed Sacramento County sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr.
The hearing, which may continue into additional court sessions Dec. 4 and Dec. 11, is designed to allow White to determine whether Bracamontes, 35, is competent to stand trial in a case that could result in the death penalty.
His case has been in limbo since July 31, when White suspended criminal proceedings after his public defenders, Norman Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour, asked for a mental examination of their client.
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Since then, two doctors have examined Bracamontes and submitted their reports to White.
The exams came after a series of hearings during which Bracamontes exhibited odd behavior, including one where he blurted out that he was guilty and wanted an execution date set. Another time he suggested he would be unable to make a scheduled court hearing because he was going to be “busy” that day.
Bracamontes’ lawyers asked for the mental exams after noting in a court filing that they had met with him regularly over more than eight months and wanted a determination of whether he was able to understand the proceedings and assist in his defense.
He maintained his composure Friday, sitting quietly for most of the brief hearing as six courtroom deputies stood watch over the defendant. Bracamontes, a Mexican citizen who was in the country illegally at the time of the slayings, spoke only when White asked whether he needed the Spanish interpreter sitting by his side to translate everything being said in court.
“I can understand everything you say,” Bracamontes told the judge as co-prosecutors Rod Norgaard and David Tellman sat nearby. Norgaard is representing the Sacramento District Attorney’s Office, while Tellman is from the Placer County District Attorney’s Office.
If Bracamontes is found competent to stand trial, the case may face additional delays if the defense seeks a change of venue to hold the trial outside Sacramento. If he is found to be incompetent to stand trial, Bracamontes will be held in a state hospital until he is deemed able to face trial.
His U.S.-born wife, Janelle Monroy, 39, also is in custody and faces life in prison if convicted in the case. Her attorney, Peter Kmeto, indicated that Monroy did not need to be present during the competency hearings for her husband, and a Dec. 18 status conference on her case was set.
The pair, who had been living in Salt Lake City and were believed to be passing through the Sacramento area, are accused in a series of shootings that began the morning of Oct. 24 at a now-demolished Motel 6 near Arden Fair Mall. Authorities say Bracamontes shot Oliver with a 9 mm handgun as the deputy approached the couple while they sat in a car in the motel parking lot.
The couple is believed to have fled in a spasm of violence that ended with Davis shot to death – authorities say Bracamontes shot him using an AR-15 assault rifle – outside Auburn. Monroy was arrested at that scene, and Bracamontes was later found hiding in a nearby home. During the episode, one other deputy and a motorist were wounded.