Accused cop killer's mental state debated in Sacramento court hearing
Two versions of accused cop killer Luis Monroy Bracamontes emerged in court Friday, one of an abusive, controlling and cheating husband with a history of methamphetamine use, the other of a Bible-toting jail inmate who believes he is so close to God that the Lord would never allow him to be executed, even if he is sent to the death chamber.
During a daylong hearing in Sacramento Superior Court, lawyers sparred over whether Bracamontes is mentally competent to stand trial in the October 2014 slayings of Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. in a crime rampage that spanned two counties and gripped the region.
No decision was made Friday, but the hearing gave the most detailed look yet at the inner workings of the case and psychiatrists’ views of Bracamontes’ mental state.
One psychiatrist for the defense testified that Bracamontes believes he is so close to God that he cannot be executed, that the poison from lethal injection would be turned into vitamins, and that he could not be killed by firing squad or hanging.
“This is a very strongly held belief that is unshakeable in an individual’s mind,” said Dr. Jason Roof, a UC Davis Medical Center psychiatrist who examined Bracamontes in jail in August.
Roof concluded that Bracamontes understands the nature of the proceedings, but is not competent to assist his attorneys in the case. Roof said he suffers from “delusional disorder” with a “grandiose” subtype and also has “stimulant use disorder” from his past heavy drug use.
Bracamontes believes his connection to God is so strong that he has talked of walking on water and being able to raise the dead, testimony indicated.
Roof was one of two doctors who provided evaluations to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White, who must rule on whether Bracamontes can face trial or must be sent to a state hospital until he is found fit for trial.
The other doctor found Bracamontes competent but was not called to testify.
Bracamontes’ lawyers called Roof and veteran defense attorney Tom Nolan of Palo Alto to testify that the defendant simply does not have a rational grip on whether he actually could be executed if found guilty and sentenced to death.
Bracamontes told Nolan “literally that God will stop the execution by changing the chemicals or melting the bullets” from a firing squad, Nolan testified under questioning from public defender Norm Dawson.
Earlier, under an hour of questioning from public defender Jeffrey Barbour, Roof said Bracamontes believes his relationship with God is so close that he has been able to cause natural disasters in California, including the drought and wildfires.
Roof added that Bracamontes is not “malingering,” or faking his illness.
Bracamontes sat passively Friday as the psychiatrist described the defendant’s mental state. But he appeared to perk up and smile – even giggling at one point – as Sacramento Assistant Chief Deputy District Attorney Rod Norgaard questioned Roof.
Norgaard and co-prosecutor David Tellman were having none of the claims that Bracamontes can’t stand trial, noting that he fully understood when his lawyers said they needed to travel to Utah and Mexico to help prepare his defense.
Norgaard described Bracamontes telling detectives and his brother, Hector, in great detail about his trip to Sacramento from Salt Lake City in October 2014, down to the Chevron and Flying J gas stations he stopped at on the trip. The prosecutor said Bracamontes described driving through Wendover, Nev., on the way to Sacramento driving 110 mph and holding a pistol on his lap hoping to be pulled over.
Norgaard also pointed out that Bracamontes at various points acknowledged that he was mortal and could die.
In an interview with detectives after his arrest, Bracamontes told deputies that “I knew I did wrong” and added, “I think you should kill me now,” Norgaard said during questioning of the psychiatrist.
Norgaard said that when Bracamontes slipped into an Auburn home before officers flushed him out with tear gas, he turned on the house gas, sipped some apple juice and left a note that read, “Forgive me, God, take me with you.”
And, Norgaard said, Bracamontes apparently did not forge his deep relationship with God until after his arrest, when he told his brother, Hector, in a Christmas Day 2014 phone call: “I did not know I had God in my heart until I got here in jail.”
He also told his brother, “I don’t think I did anything wrong,” according to Norgaard. “My conscience is clear, God was using me.”
The hearing Friday exposed the most details to date of what Bracamontes has told interviewers since his arrest and of his own background. Bracamontes, a Mexican citizen who was in this country illegally at the time of the shootings, first came to the United States at age 17 from his family home in Sinaloa, where he worked in the farm fields with his father.
In the U.S., he was convicted of selling drugs at least once and deported two other times after narcotics arrests.
Norgaard noted in court that there is evidence Bracamontes was an abusive husband who cheated on his wife and co-defendant, Janelle Monroy, choked her into unconciousness during sex and once fired a shot into their bed.
He also was enraged by her infidelity, Norgaard noted, including with an associate known as “Goofy the tattoo artist,” and that he threatened to have the Sinaloa cartel travel to Arizona to massacre her family, revelations that Bracamontes greeted with a broad smile as he sat at the defense table in waist chains.
The hearing is expected to continue on Dec. 4, and White will rule on whether Bracamontes is competent.
The case against Bracamontes, 35, has been on hold since July 31, when the judge suspended criminal proceedings and ordered a mental evaluation. Bracamontes’ public defenders sought the evaluation, saying their interactions with him over a period of months left them questioning his mental state.
Bracamontes’ behavior in court has been unusual, with the defendant joking, gawking at reporters, and at one point confessing to the slayings and asking for an execution date.