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Dealing With the Devil

Brandy DuVall went through hell before she died. She left no angels as witnesses.

She had little hope that she could save Danny, but she still thought Antonio might make it. Her younger son had always had big plans. He was going to be an artist, attend college, maybe draw for Disney someday. He knew that to pursue those plans, he had to stay in school.

That wasn't easy, especially because he, too, was proud of his gang affiliation. He'd get expelled for wearing red shoestrings or a red hat, or for throwing gang signs. But he'd always come home and talk to his mother. "Tell them they have to let me back in," he'd insist. And soon Antonio would be back in the classroom.

Antonio managed to stay out of any major trouble until a few days after his fifteenth birthday. But on March 26, 1989, he shot another boy in the alley behind 2727 California. It was Easter Sunday.

January 7, 1998
"When you hear what happened to Brandy DuVall...the way she was killed and the way she was raped...it is a natural human reaction to cry out for vengeance."

Randy Canney faces the jury, knowing that he is walking a tightrope on behalf of his client. A criminal defense lawyer for ten years, Canney has never before had a first-degree-murder case. He'd once plea-bargained a death-penalty case--a gang shooting--down to 48 years. But this was different, very different.

"But there is only one defendant sitting here: Frank Vigil Jr.," Canney says, pointing to his client. "Frank Vigil did not kill Brandy DuVall. And there is nothing in the evidence you will hear to suggest he did."

Jeffco DA Dave Thomas had opted not to seek the death penalty in this case, primarily because of Vigil's age. But if Canney lost, Frank would spend the rest of his life in prison. No parole. And life in a maximum-security prison was a long, long time for someone not yet old enough to vote.

Canney had always wanted to be a criminal defense lawyer; he liked the idea of fighting for the underdog against the state. His first obligation was to make the state prosecutors prove their case, but he felt his job went further than that. It was up to him to paint his client as a human being, not a monster. And if the government's facts were overwhelming, to find mitigating factors that would explain why a sixteen-year-old boy would have participated in something so sick and brutal.

Circumstances. The word haunts Canney. What circumstances led Frank Vigil to be in that house that night?

"Frank Vigil did not rape Brandy DuVall. There is no credible evidence that he had any sexual contact with her," he continues.

It was Frank Vigil's age that first struck Canney when he was appointed to the case in June 1997. After hearing some of what had happened to Brandy DuVall, he had expected to find some hardened gang member. But what he saw was a scared kid.

It was even hard to deal with the family. Absolutely horrifying to speak to a mother who knew she would probably never see her teenage son in her home again. He had tried to find a balance when talking to Sally Vigil, a balance that would offer some hope while also making it clear that there wasn't much.

And his work in the courtroom would be another balancing act. What had happened to the girl was horrible; Canney needed to convince the jury that Frank, as the smallest and youngest gang member present, was less involved and, in fact, afraid to speak up or try to stop the brutality.

"He was not the one who picked her up and brought her to the house," Canney tells the jury. "He was not the one who gave her cocaine."

This was another fine line. His client was charged with first-degree murder, sexual assault, sexual assault on a child, assault and kidnapping. Mere presence at the house wasn't enough to convict him of first-degree murder. But if the jury believed Frank Vigil had participated in any way in the felonies leading up to her death, the way Colorado law read, he was just as guilty as whoever plunged the knife into her neck.

Their only chance, he figured, was to attack the credibility of the defense witnesses, particularly Uncle Joe and Zig Zag. Both would claim that Frank had been the first to urge the others to silence Brandy by killing her. Canney would have to impeach them as liars.

Now he cautions the jury that when the prosecution presented its case, to "remember where it comes from. For the prosecution to say that these people are not 'angels' makes them guilty of an unbelievable understatement. There is no physical evidence, and no reliable witnesses, that proves Frank Vigil committed a crime."

It was not some accident that the gang members showed up at Uncle Joe's that night, Canney says. "He is the uncle of Danny Martinez, who was on the run from the law, and he knew that." Nor was it the first time that a similar gang rape had taken place at the home of Uncle Joe, "who got his cocaine from the gang."

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