Crime - Sacto 911

Sacramento judge keeps mental competency hearing open for suspect in deputy killings

Luis Monroy Bracamontes, suspect in slayings of two deputies.
Luis Monroy Bracamontes, suspect in slayings of two deputies. Maricopa (Ariz.) County Sheriff’s Office

A Sacramento judge on Friday rejected a request to close the mental competency hearing for Luis Monroy Bracamontes, accused of killing two deputies, saying the public’s right to information in the case outweighs defense attorneys’ concerns over the publicity the case is generating.

Superior Court Judge Steve White rejected a motion from public defenders Jeffrey Barbour and Norman Dawson and paved the way for a public hearing to begin Nov. 20 that will determine whether Bracamontes can stand trial in the slayings – which could earn him the death penalty – or whether he must be confined to a state hospital until he is found competent to face trial.

Bracamontes is accused of killing Sacramento Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer Deputy Michael Davis Jr. in October 2014 in a daylong outbreak of gun violence that paralyzed the region.

His lawyers, who have sought previously to exclude the media from hearings in the case, argued that their client cannot receive a fair trial if media coverage of his mental competency hearing is allowed.

“The amount of publicity in the Sacramento area on this case has been overwhelming,” Barbour and Dawson wrote in their motion. “In the age of modern technology, events are broadcast in real time.

“There was significant publicity on this case as it happened. The police hunt for the suspects was broadcast on radio and television. Many schools were on lockdown. Once an arrest was made, the story remained the dominant local news story.”

Placer County Deputy District Attorney David Tellman, who is prosecuting the case with Sacramento Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard, told White that family members of victims in the case had expressed interest in attending the competency proceedings.

“We have had some interest from the victims’ families requesting permission to watch some of those hearings,” Tellman said.

Stephen Burns, an attorney representing The Sacramento Bee, appeared in court prepared to argue against the exclusion of media and the public, but White signaled before Burns spoke that he was prepared to reject the defense request.

Bracamontes, who sat at the defense table while being watched over by seven deputies, did not speak during the hearing.

The Bracamontes case already has been conducted with a certain amount of control over media coverage.

White has declined to allow cameras in his courtroom, and previous hearings were conducted with photographers ordered to not record images of the suspect’s face, despite the fact that mug shots and Facebook photos of Bracamontes are widely available.

The suspect already has blurted out in court that he is guilty and wants to be executed, and in July, White ordered a hearing to determine whether Bracamontes is mentally competent to stand trial after his attorneys raised concerns about his mental capacity.

His attorneys argued “privileged and confidential information” that could come out in the hearing should not be available to the public because it would “compound what may already be an insurmountable task – picking a fair and impartial jury and seeking to ensure a fair and impartial trial.”

But White noted that if Bracamontes is found not competent he likely will be held in a state hospital for a lengthy period of time, which would reduce the public’s memory of what comes out of the hearing. If he is found competent and a trial moves forward, White noted, the defense always has the right to seek a change of venue.

Bracamontes, 35, faces charges in the case along with his wife, Janelle Monroy, 39, who allegedly accompanied him on the crime spree that began in a Motel 6 parking lot near Arden Fair mall and ended in Auburn.

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam