Judgment Day

As judges ponder the fates of Brandy DuVall's murderers, they must measure different shades of black.

But if Francisco gets the death penalty, it will not be over. Not for his family, not for hers: The sentence would automatically be appealed, and the legal battles would go on for years. She fears for her son Antonio if Pancho is sentenced to die. Antonio escaped the gang and has a good life far away from Denver, but Pancho was his friend, too. Antonio feels guilty because he walked away but didn't find a way to save Pancho and Danny. It is hard enough for Antonio that his brother will spend the rest of his life in prison; if Pancho is sentenced to die, she worries it will be too much.

"I want this to be over," she says, and gets up to comfort Linda, who has arrived, her face a picture of terror.

A few raindrops strike the window behind the women and run down the panes. The weather seems a portent, predicting the tears of the families waiting in the hall, waiting to be let into the courtroom, waiting for the final judgment.

Angela and her family appear; they are led past the line and to their customary seats. What will she do when this is over? Where will she go? Angela doesn't know. She's purchased books on how to deal with death, but none have helped. Her grief has no structure, no stages to check off. The tide continues to rise. She will heal at her own pace--or not at all.

Shortly before 10 a.m., the rest of the spectators are in the courtroom. Francisco soon enters and appears stunned by the size of the crowd. He sits quickly, without searching out any faces. A few minutes later, the judges come in. As Judge Anderson had done at Danny Martinez's sentencing, Villano encourages anyone who "will not be able to listen to the sentence without disrupting this court...to go into the hall now."

After the verdict was read at Francisco's trial, his family and friends had erupted in grief, crying "no, no, no" over and over as they wept. But no one leaves the courtroom now, and families on both sides of the aisle struggle to keep quiet.

As he hands packets containing the sentencing order to the attorneys, Villano asks them not to open them or read them until after he announces the verdict.

So no one knows until later that the judges have determined that all five of the prosecution aggravators were proved beyond a reasonable doubt. Of the mitigators, they've accepted just one, the catch-all "any evidence which in the court's opinion bears on the question of mitigation." While the judges largely dismissed the testimony of the defense psychologists, they had some sympathy for Francisco's upbringing.

"The panel finds that this defendant did endure a difficult, disturbing and unsettled childhood," their decision reads. "He suffered from the absence of positive male role models and the presence of a mother who, though she appeared to love him, suffered from mental disturbances that were, at times, debilitating.

"Although many of the defendant's claims of abuse and neglect were determined by the panel, after hearing, to be less compelling than claimed, the panel does find that the defendant is entitled to mitigation based on the unsettled and disturbing nature of his childhood home."

With that as the only mitigator, the judges had easily decided in step three that the aggravators outweighed the single instance in the defendant's favor. Which brought them to step four.

"In nearly fifty years of collective judicial experience," the judges stated in their opinion, "this panel has never dealt with a more shocking display of conscienceless depravity than that of this defendant.

"Counsel has asked the panel to try and understand the factors that shaped this defendant and led to this crime. That level of comprehension does not assist in understanding the crime.

"Even at trial, a year and a half after the crime, the defendant's conduct was extraordinary. Following the tearful and emotional testimony of the mother of the fourteen-year-old victim, while the court was in recess, the defendant felt compelled to make eye contact with the mother and to laugh and smirk and nod his head at her.

"The defendant's brief emotionless statement of apology to the child's family at the end of the sentencing proceedings seems to pale against the backdrop of his malevolent attitude toward them over the course of this long and difficult process."

Even for a gang member, the panel wrote, Francisco was unique. "While this panel knows all too well the insidious nature of the gang as a surrogate family and the difficulty inherent in resisting its embrace for a man like the defendant, it must be acknowledged that not every gang member rises to the level of barbaric malevolence attained by Mr. Martinez.

"The panel also acknowledges the tragic consequences of this crime for the victim and her family...The death of Brandaline DuVall and the manner of her death will never be understandable or bearable. It is beyond the ability of this panel to alter that tragic fact."

All of this and more is contained in the packets that sit unopened on the tables in front of the attorneys. The details will spill out later. Right now, the consequence of the judges' considerations comes quickly from Villano:

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