Luis Bracamontes didn’t need much time to make his presence known Tuesday on day one of his double murder trial.
Barely 25 minutes into prosecutor Rod Norgaard’s opening statement, the accused killer of two Sacramento-area deputies uttered the latest in a series of outbursts he has made in court over the case.
As Norgaard described the ambush slaying of Sacramento sheriff’s Deputy Danny Oliver, he recounted how Oliver’s partner, Scott Brown, came under heavy fire as he emptied his 15-round clip at Bracamontes in the Motel 6 parking lot near Arden Fair Mall on Oct. 24, 2014.
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Brown retreated under heavy fire, Norgaard recounted. As he talked, Bracamontes grinned and, finally could not restrain himself.
“Coward,” Bracamontes said of Brown, who had just seen his partner killed.
“You will remain silent,” Sacramento Superior Court Judge Steve White said as he handled the latest bizarre behavior from Bracamontes, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who is on trial along with his wife, Janelle Monroy.
The pair are accused of a daylong crime spree that killed Oliver and Placer sheriff’s Deputy Michael Davis Jr. and wounded a number of other victims.
Bracamontes faces the death penalty; his wife faces life if convicted.
Both are seated at a defense table facing one of the two juries in the case Tuesday, although there is a stark difference in how the two are being handled.
Monroy has been allowed to sit wearing a gray and black dress without shackles or chains.
Bracamontes is seated at the table with waist chains and his arms shackled beneath the table, an outgrowth of his numerous outbursts during court hearings that have included his confessions that he is guilty and his threats to kill more officers. Two Sacramento County Sheriff’s deputies are standing behind him in court, and one is standing behind Monroy.
On Tuesday, Bracamontes gave no signal that he will remain quiet during the months long proceedings that are expected.
He grinned throughout the first portion of Norgaard’s statement, laughed out loud when the prosecutor said he cared only about his dogs, and stared at spectators in the courtroom who include the dead deputies’ families.
The case is proceeding with juries for both defendants, and only Bracamontes’ jury was in court Tuesday morning. One juror already had to be replaced after calling in and saying they needed surgery this week.
That left the jury of six men and six women and nine alternates.
The trial is being held in a large, first-floor courtroom chosen to accommodate family members of the dead deputies and the expected crush of onlookers and media, including photographers who were allowed to record images of the suspects’ faces for the first time since their arrests.
White has previously kept cameras out of the courtroom, but has agreed to allow access during the start of the trial, closing arguments, the reading of the verdicts and any sentencing.
From the start, Bracamontes has proven to be a difficult client for public defenders Norm Dawson and Jeffrey Barbour.
He has loudly admitted his guilt, asked to be executed, threatened to attack them or courtroom deputies and tried to fire them in an apparent bid to represent himself and plead guilty.
“I’m going to kill all you motherf—- if I get the chance,” Bracamontes shouted at deputies shackling him to a chair in court during a hearing in June.
He has cracked jokes, grinned broadly as the slayings were described in court and appeared to fall asleep at various times.
“You’re not helping our cause here, you’re really not,” Dawson told Bracamontes at one court session after his client smiled and began staring at prosecutors Rod Norgaard and Dave Tellman.
His lawyers sought unsuccessfully to have him declared mentally incompetent to face trial, to have the trial moved out of Sacramento and to bar the media from some portions of the hearings. White rejected those efforts.
The case has drawn widespread media attention, partly because of Bracamontes’ status as an illegal immigrant and his history of arrests and deportations in Arizona. President Trump has weighed in on the case, mentioning it during a speech to Congress last year and introducing the widow of one of the slain deputies.
Bracamontes’ wife has remained mostly quiet during the pretrial proceedings, although at times she has cried at the defense table as her husband has acted out. Her attorney, Pete Kmeto, is expected to argue that Monroy was, in essence, Bracamontes’ first victim.
Court filings have described Bracamontes as paranoid and abusive, and say that while the couple drove from their Salt Lake City home to Sacramento he smoked methamphetamine and marijuana and threatened to sell her into sexual slavery.
The trial stems from a daylong rampage that began in the parking lot of a Motel 6 near Arden Fair Mall. Oliver, a Sacramento sheriff’s deputy on patrol with his partner, was shot in the head after allegedly asking Monroy for identification.
The suspect then unleashed a hail of bullets as he fled, carjacking vehicles along the way until a shootout near Auburn killed Davis, a Placer County deputy, and wounded another deputy, authorities say.
Because the slain deputies were from two different counties, prosecutors were chosen from each office to work together on the case. Norgaard comes from the Sacramento County District Attorney’s Office, while Tellman comes from the Placer County office.
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