The public defenders who are representing the man accused of shooting and killing two local sheriff’s deputies four months ago have filed a motion to keep the news media out of the courtroom Wednesday for a routine procedural hearing.
Sacramento County Assistant Public Defenders Norm Dawson and Jeff Barbour filed the motion last week on behalf of their client, Luis Enriquez Monroy Bracamontes. The attorney for Bracamontes’ wife and co-defendant, Janelle Marquez Monroy, said he plans to join in the motion.
“Counsel for Mr. Bracamontes believe that because of publicity, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to select a fair and impartial jury and to afford Mr. Bracamontes his rights to a fair preliminary hearing, due process and impartial trial,” said the motion by Barbour and Dawson. “Publicizing this matter further at this court appearance will continue to add to that difficulty.”
Bracamontes, 34, and Monroy, 38, are scheduled to make a routine appearance Wednesday in front of Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White, to whom the case has been pre-assigned.
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They are accused in the Oct. 24 shooting deaths of Sacramento County sheriff’s deputy Daniel Oliver, 47, and Placer County sheriff’s deputy Michael Davis Jr., 42. Oliver was gunned down behind a Motel 6 on Arden Way in Sacramento. Authorities say Davis was shot and killed when he and another deputy confronted the fleeing Bracamontes and Monroy a few hours later on a road in Auburn.
Authorities have identified Bracamontes as the shooter and are seeking the death penalty against him only. Besides the murders, he and his wife are charged with five counts of attempted murder, two counts of carjacking, one of attempted carjacking as well as four other felonies in the string of violent crimes that spanned two counties.
Nothing substantive is expected to take place at Wednesday’s hearing that the defense wants to close to the media. Prosecutors from the Sacramento County and Placer County district attorney’s offices, which are jointly handling the case, still have a significant amount of discovery materials such as police reports and other evidentiary items to turn over to the defense before the two sides begin to address the more significant issues that figure to arise ahead of trial.
One of them is likely to be a defense request for a change of venue due to pretrial publicity. Such hearings are usually preceded by surveys conducted by the defense side to gauge how much attention the public has paid to media accounts. The surveys and change-of-venue motions themselves can take months to prepare.
Dawson, one of the public defenders who filed the motion to exclude the media, did not comment Monday other than to say that if he and Barbour have anything to say on the matter, they’ll say it in court on Wednesday.
Their motion said that witnesses’ identification of Bracamontes “may be an issue in this case. Showing Mr. Bracamontes’ face on broadcast media will make it highly likely that known witnesses, and witnesses not yet interviewed, will have identification procedures tainted by this publicity.”
Pete Kmeto, the attorney who is representing Monroy, said the motion to keep the media out is “a precautionary measure to ensure the integrity of witnesses’ testimony.” Kmeto said banning the media at a hearing such as Wednesday’s basically is a matter of the lawyers “making a record” ahead of the change of venue motion.
The public defenders said in their court papers that the publicity in the deputies’ killings “has been overwhelming, if not unprecedented.”
“In the age of modern technology, events are broadcast in real time,” the motion said. “There was significant publicity on this case as it happened. The police hunt for the suspects was broadcast on radio and television. Schools were locked down. Once an arrest was made, the story remained the dominant local news story.”
When the defendants first appeared in front of a judge, “the courtroom was filled with broadcast media,” the motion said. “The news stories were run on morning, afternoon, evening and nightly newscasts. The coverage also included live broadcasts of the funerals of the fallen officers.”
The prosecutors’ announcement that they would seek the death penalty on Bracamontes “saturated the local news,” the defense lawyers said.
They also cited coverage of a video posting by Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones that as of Monday had been viewed 438,492 times. In the video, Jones linked the fatal shooting attributed to Bracamontes, a Mexican national who authorities say was in the United States illegally, to President Barack Obama’s “singular failure” to enact what Jones called “meaningful immigration reform.”
Within the past week, “The media has even recently covered the destruction of the Motel 6 on Arden (Way),” where Deputy Oliver was fatally shot, the motion said.
Defense attorneys previously sought to exclude the electronic media from a Dec. 9 hearing in Sacramento Superior Court. The motion was denied, although television camera operators were barred from filming the defendants’ faces.
In the motion for Wednesday’s hearing, Dawson and Barbour said they want the court to “exclude all media from the courtroom, including print media.”
McGeorge School of Law professor John E.B. Myers called the defense effort to ban the media “completely legitimate,” but he said it “should fail at a relatively innocuous hearing.”
“As the facts of the case come out more, the defense should have a stronger argument,” Myers said. “But they should still lose. The burden should be a heavy one on them to deprive the press and the public of our right to know. People get fair trials every day where the press and the public are in the courtroom.”
Call The Bee’s Andy Furillo, (916) 321-1141. Follow him on Twitter @andyfurillo.