Judgment Day

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

Someone had to research, write and argue those hundreds of motions the prosecutors complain about. But throw enough stuff at the wall, and something might stick.

The case against Francisco had been overwhelming, as evidenced by the two hours it took a jury to convict him. The arguments stacked against him at the death-penalty hearing looked almost as insurmountable.

Even the prosecution had never said that Danny stabbed Brandy. Then there was all that stuff about the broom handle, the bloody knife in the bathroom, and kicking the poor girl. Even a judge was going to have a hard time blocking that out.

But the defense attorneys would throw all they could up there. In Danny's case, Coughlin was proof that it only took one judge to see things a little differently. For example, maybe one of the three on Francisco's panel would hesitate to make such a decision based on the accusations of Sammy Quintana, one of the devils who'd gotten a deal in exchange for his testimony.

The defense wasn't counting on it. If something stuck, great, but in every motion turned down, every objection overruled, there might be something that would catch the eye of a judge at the appellate level. The lawyers were trying to ensure that even if the panel sentenced Francisco to death, the fight would not be over.

Emotionally, the defense team hadn't had an easy time of it, either. They weren't immune to the tears shed by the victim's family; they'd had to look at the photographs and listen to testimony describing their client's monstrous acts. The images and words would remain with them long after their case files began gathering dust in some storage room.

Still, this was about whether the state should be in the business of executing one of its citizens. It was a battle they fought with the zeal of those who believe they hold the moral high ground against overwhelming odds. And if some people didn't like the way they did their job, too bad--those people weren't trying to save a young man's life.

That young man now watches his attorney, turning occasionally to look at the judges as if to gauge their reaction. The day had begun with Francisco asking the judges, through his attorneys, for permission to return to his cell; he didn't want to hear the testimony.

Although some of that testimony would be presented on his behalf, Kaplan had noted that it "is not particularly flattering to his family or upbringing" and that Francisco would be uncomfortable listening to it.

Several members of Brandy's family shook their heads at this request. They suspected that what Pancho really didn't want to hear was how the girl's death had affected them. That didn't seem fair. It certainly hadn't bothered him to hear Brandy's screams and pleas for mercy before he stabbed her. And then this man had smirked and laughed at them, mouthing obscenities during his trial.

Deputy District Attorney Sargent had objected to Francisco's request. "He has no constitutional right to be absent," he told the court. "What we're going to hear throughout these proceedings will be painful for everybody."

Kaplan countered by contending that a defendant's right to waive his presence was up to the court's discretion. But Villano, who'd come out of retirement to preside over this hearing, said he wasn't prepared to rule. Francisco was going to have to stay and listen to the opening statements.

In their effort to execute his client, Ridley now says, the prosecutors "want to demonize and dehumanize" Francisco Martinez. But after the judges get to know his client and the life he lived since childhood and "the forces" that formed who he became, they will realize Francisco had "a relatively small amount of moral culpability" compared to the others.

"How do you take into account so many intangibles?" Ridley asks. What role did alcohol play? What part could be attributed to "another drama" that was taking part in the house--the "quoting," or beating into the gang, of Jacob Casados? How much did all that "testosterone" have to do with what happened to Brandy DuVall?

Ridley points a figurative finger back at Danny Martinez, just as Danny's lawyers had done a few weeks earlier to Francisco. "How do you account for the leaders who make the decisions and call the shots?...No one disputes that Danny Martinez was the leader and founder of the Deuce-Seven with his brother, Antonio.

"Given the madness, complexity and chaos of the evening," he warns, it would not be legally or morally right "to pick out one to punish with death."

Like Danny before him, Pancho sits quietly and listens to his attorney badmouth his best friend. Back when it might still have been possible for Danny to plead guilty in exchange for life in prison, thus avoiding a potential death sentence, Pancho had told his attorneys to tell Danny that it was all right with him if Danny cut a deal.

Although prosecutors never made the offer, anyway, Danny balked at letting his friend face a death sentence alone. During the hearings when their lives were on the line, though, neither man protested their lawyers' condemnation of the other.

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