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.

When Brandy was alive, out visiting one of her friends at night, he would lie awake, listening for her footsteps, waiting for her tap on the window to be let back inside. Now when he sleeps, he swears he still hears her footsteps and jumps out of bed to greet her. "But nobody's there," he says.

Harder still are the nights when his sleep is interrupted by cries from Brandy. "Grandpa, help me, help me." But after he's awake, there is only silence as he lies still, listening.

April 28, 1999
It had taken the prosecutors just one day to state their case. Their attempt to bring a Denver Gang Unit officer to the stand to testify regarding Danny's position in the gang's hierarchy was thwarted by the defense; attorney David Lindsey argues that while the rules of evidence regarding hearsay are relaxed at sentencing hearings, the officer's testimony about what other gang members say would conflict with Danny's constitutional right to cross-examine those witnesses.

So after investigator Simmons went through the evidence for the judges--describing the various photographs, pointing out where Brandy's blood was found on the backseat of Sammy Quintana's car--the prosecution rested.

The following day, it is the defense team's turn. Danny enters the courtroom looking tired, as though he didn't sleep well after the previous day's emotional testimony. He asks supporters if his mother is in the courthouse and smiles only after he's told that she is waiting in the hallway.

It is up to the defense to present step two in the death-penalty process, to discuss any of the eleven statutorily allowed "mitigators" that apply. Mitigators are essentially anything in the defendant's favor that might excuse his behavior somewhat and balance out the aggravators--such as the defendant's age, whether the defendant was under duress, or whether the defendant's participation was relatively minor, though not so minor as to be a defense from prosecution.

While aggravators must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, there is no burden of proof regarding mitigators, which can include the rather open-ended "any other evidence, which in the court's opinion bears on the question of mitigation." The only caveat is that the evidence is supposed to be relevant to the defendant's character, background and the circumstances surrounding the crime.

It is this last point that comes into contention after Lindsey calls defense investigator Pamela Ferguson to the stand and asks her about death-penalty statistics that she obtained from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Sargent objects, saying the information is not relevant to Danny. But Lindsey counters that such statistics provide a "moral sense" of what has occurred. Anderson, who as the trial-court judge rules on the nitty-gritty of this hearing, calls for a recess to confer with the other two judges.

Back in session, Anderson overrules Sargent's objection and allows Ferguson to make her report under the "any other evidence" portion of the mitigation statutes. The statistics, Ferguson says, show that of the 6,331 people sentenced to die since the U.S. Supreme Court reinstated the death penalty in 1976, only 76 were "non-triggermen."

If Danny needed anything, he'd ask me. If I needed anything, I didn't even have to ask. We were just there for each other."

Danny's sister, Raquel, clutches a tissue as Lewis gently guides her through his questions. The hearing has reached the stage where the defense is trying to highlight Danny's good qualities while emphasizing his difficult childhood.

Raquel is Danny's older sister. She works for a communications company and has three children. She clearly loves her brother despite the crimes he's been convicted of, and it isn't difficult for Lewis to wring out the tears--particularly when he shows her photographs of Danny with his twin sons.

There are more tears when Lewis mentions the time when they were children and their mother placed them in foster care while she straightened out her own life. Danny and Raquel had been sent to one home and their baby brother, Antonio, to another.

"We lived terrible," she cries. She and her brother were kept in a basement, sleeping on mats, and forced to use containers when they had to go to the bathroom. If they got into trouble, they had to lie on the ground while their caretaker spanked the bottoms of their feet.

The ordeal didn't last long. Raquel managed to relay the abuse to a social worker, who placed them in the same home as Antonio. "I never talked about it with Danny," she says. "I don't know if he remembered."

Once reunited with their mother, they all moved into their grandmother's house, at 2727 California Street in Five Points. It was a neighborhood in which crime and drug use was rampant. Both of their parents were users. There was a brief reprieve when Theresa married Bill Rollins, a good man who was the first decent role model the boys had known. "That's my dad," Raquel tells Lewis. But her mother's drug problems cost Theresa that marriage.

As Danny grew up, he got involved with gangs and selling drugs. No, Raquel says, she wasn't aware that he sold drugs to his own father. But yes, she did know he sold them to his uncle Jimmy.

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