The Final Judgment

Two years ago this week, Brandy DuVall was killed by members of the Deuce-Seven gang. For the past month, the courts have been deciding whether her murderers live or die.

"Brandy's now dead. Danny Martinez must be sentenced to death."

May 7, 1999
When the lawyers in the Riggan case finished their closing arguments, the presiding judge, Frank Plaut, surprised those in attendance by announcing that the panel's decision would be ready the next morning.

After a week of deliberation, it is clear that the panel in Danny Martinez's case did not have nearly as easy a time making their decision. But finally, the word comes down that the judges are ready to announce their verdict.

The courtroom quickly fills.
Angela Metzger enters with her family. She doesn't think Danny will get the death penalty, but she will not be disappointed. Either way, his life has already been forfeited.

There is no winning here. Apparently not even any lessons learned. Just a few weeks ago, she noticed a small newspaper article--only a few paragraphs, really--about a fourteen-year-old girl who had been picked up on Federal Boulevard and raped by three men. Unlike Brandy, though, this girl was released several hours later. Hasn't anybody been listening?

If Angela feels anything about this moment, it is her heart going out to the woman across the aisle. She'd been sickened by the way the defense attorneys had attacked Danny's mother. Theresa wasn't perfect. But her son was a grown man. He'd made his own choices that night.

Twenty feet away, Theresa Swinton tries to control her own fear as well as that of her daughter, who is already in tears. Theresa's mouth is set, and she holds her eyes open wide to keep from crying herself.

She has prayed all night. Please, don't let them kill my son. But she isn't asking for any miracles. Danny should spend the rest of his life in prison for what he did. That, she believes, looking at the back of her son's head, is justice.

Before the verdict was announced after Danny's trial three months before, she told her family and Danny's supporters that she didn't want any outbursts--however the verdict came down--out of respect for Brandy's family. She has repeated that request, but this time Judge Anderson makes it official for both sides.

When the panel enters, Anderson instructs the audience, attorneys and defendant to remain standing. He thanks the Martinez and DuVall families for preserving the decorum of his courtroom throughout the proceedings.

He recognizes that emotions are high, however, and so takes the unusual step of saying that he won't tolerate any "outbursts, cursing, clapping, cheers or obscene gestures" at the announcement of the verdict. "If any person here feels they are inclined to lose control or have any doubts about their ability to remain courageous, silent and responsible in this kind of proceeding, I ask you to leave now, while we're still standing."

Anderson peers around the courtroom. When no one leaves, he says, "Those people of courage, respect and civility are welcome to sit with me at this time."

The moment of truth has come. Danny sits with his elbows on the table and hands templed in front of his face. Hands on both sides of the aisle reach for those of a neighbor. Heads bow.

Anderson clears his throat and announces, "We cannot reach a unanimous verdict." It takes a moment to sink in. To send someone to their execution, the verdict must be unanimous. The tension leaves the courtroom like water running down a drain.

A moment later, Danny's family learns how thin a thread his life hung by. The judges had split. Coughlin against the death penalty; Fasing and Anderson in favor.

"Lacking unanimity, the only lawful penalty is a sentence to life imprisonment...for Daniel Nieto Martinez Jr."

With that, Danny stands. He is handcuffed, then led away through a side door. He does not look back.

The death-penalty bar had been set higher than Danny Martinez. The question now is whether it will fall on the head of his best friend, Francisco.

Next week: The death-penalty hearing of Francisco "Pancho" Martinez and the conclusion of "Dealing with the Devil."

Visit to read related Westword stories.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help