Crime - Sacto 911

Suspect in 2 deputies’ killings is fit for trial, psychiatrist tells hearing

Luis Monroy Bracamontes appears in court on Dec. 4, 2015
Luis Monroy Bracamontes appears in court on Dec. 4, 2015 Vicki Behringer

The fate of Luis Monroy Bracamontes, accused of killing two deputies, consumed another day in court Friday as lawyers argued over whether he is mentally competent to stand trial or must be sent to Napa State Hospital until he is.

The bottom line: Bracamontes wants to plead guilty to killing Sacramento County Deputy Danny Oliver and Placer County Deputy Michael Davis Jr. in October 2014 and face the death penalty because he supposedly believes he cannot be executed. His public defenders say that alone has made it impossible for him to assist them in preparing a defense.

“Mr. Bracamontes cannot rationally cooperate and assist counsel,” public defender Jeffrey Barbour told Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White in his closing. “I urge the court to make that finding.”

That request followed a day of testimony from a court-appointed psychiatrist who supported the prosecution’s argument that Bracamontes may have some mental illness but can stand trial.

Dr. Denise Kellaher declared that Bracamontes is charming and glib and suffers from a mental disorder, but he understands the nature of the court proceedings he faces and is competent.

Kellaher interviewed Bracamontes for five hours Aug. 22 and described the suspect as believing he is so God-fearing that he wants to plead guilty to please the Lord.

“He believes in the idea of redemption,” Kellaher said as Bracamontes sat in the courtroom smiling, looking about and sporting a triple goatee. “He wants to be honest.

“He’s not backing down from accountability, that he did these acts.”

Bracamontes “believes that he may still yet be spared by God because he’s redeeming himself,” Kellaher said.

She also said she “detected a preponderance of psychopathy” in Bracamontes, which is manifested by a manipulative nature, pathological lying and a charm that is dangerous because it disarms others. She added later that Bracamontes is not “a stone-cold psychopath.”

Her testimony comes two weeks after another court-appointed psychiatrist testified that Bracamontes believes he cannot be killed by execution, that poison from a lethal injection will turn to vitamins and that a firing squad or hanging could not kill him.

That psychiatrist, Dr. Jason Roof, testified that Bracamontes has talked of walking on water and raising the dead, evidence presented by his defense lawyers in an attempt to have Bracamontes sent to a state hospital rather than stand trial.

Bracamontes and his wife, Janelle Monroy, both face trial in the slayings, which occurred during a daylong outburst of violence that began in a Motel 6 parking lot near Arden Fair mall and ended in Auburn.

Monroy faces life in prison if convicted and has not been physically present during the Bracamontes competency hearings.

She has nevertheless played a role in the process with testimony about Bracamontes’ controlling nature and threats he made against her after he learned through court documents of her alleged infidelity.

At one point, he looked at her during a court hearing and drew his finger across his throat, indicating he would kill her, testimony has shown. At another, he sent her a postcard threatening to escape and kill her and her family.

Bracamontes, a Mexican citizen who had been deported several times in the past and was in the country illegally at the time of the slayings, is from Sinaloa and apparently takes great pride in his connection to the Mexican center of drug cartels.

Kellaher said when she met him he lifted his jail smock to show her a Sinaloa tattoo on his stomach.

He also has discussed wanting to have a Facebook page devoted to his crimes, she testified.

Prosecutors are trying to show that Bracamontes is using what he has referred to as “the God thing” to seek better treatment from his jailers. He has indicated he gets better treatment from jailers in El Dorado County, where he is being held, than from the Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies who transport him.

At one point, Bracamontes allegedly told one Sacramento County deputy who displeased him, “You know what happened to Danny, don’t you?”

Norman Dawson, one of Bracamontes’ public defenders, questioned Kellaher about her conclusions, noting that there is evidence Bracamontes has told others he cannot be killed, that his belief in the Bible and God has convinced him that executing him will fail.

But prosecutor David Tellman told the judge at the conclusion of Friday’s hearing that Bracamontes’ claims do not hold water.

“If, in fact, he believes he cannot be killed, a person who truly believed that he cannot be killed wouldn’t be concerned about redemption,” Tellman said. “Redemption is a concept of mortality.”

Bracamontes, he added, has had no difficulty cooperating with the doctors who examined him and should be able to do so with his lawyers.

Judge White is not expected to make a decision about Bracamontes’ competency before Dec. 18 and may push it back to mid-January, depending on lawyers’ schedules.

Evidence presented during the proceedings has included new details about the alleged shooter and his past.

Kellaher said she diagnosed him as having a personality disorder with paranoid and anti-social features, as well as methamphetamine and cannabis use disorders that are in remission.

She said he has shown signs of paranoia, especially involving his wife and his belief that she engaged in affairs.

He also had “an over-concern that law enforcement was trying to put him away or deport him.”

She noted that while he was living in Tempe, Ariz., he accidentally shot off a firearm, hurting his left hand and killing his dog and leading him to believe he may have accidentally killed his neighbor.

His solution was to flee to Utah, she said.

“For 12 years, he thought he was a wanted man,” Kellaher testified.

Bracamontes has told psychiatrists that his past includes robbing drug dealers and surviving perilous journeys across the desert. He also has indicated that his ability to survive the dragnet after the officers were killed has convinced him that God does not want him to die.

“He expects that he’s going to get the death penalty because of owning up to these criminal behaviors,” Kellaher testified.

But she rejected suggestions from Dawson that Bracamontes believes he literally cannot be put to death. Instead, she said, he believes “he is invincible” and that “likely I will prevail again.”

The difference, she said, is that he believes he will die only when God decides it is time.

“He does believe that he is mortal and that he will die,” Kellaher said. “However, he does not believe that any average human being, at least without God’s will, will take his life, that it will only be because it’s by God’s design that it’s his time to go.”

Sam Stanton: 916-321-1091, @StantonSam