Dealing With the Devil
Antonio Martinez has some last-minute Christmas shopping to do. He buzzes through Kmart, picking out a serving bowl for his grandmother, a video game for a cousin. In Denver just for the holidays, he shivers as he steps outside. He got rid of his winter clothes when he moved west to start another life. A new life.
He's making good money at the tattoo shop. "I'm one of the two bests drawers in the city," he says. Humility has never been his strong suit.
Antonio's transition from Boom, the notorious gangbanger, to Boom, the working artist, is on ongoing process. He charges $100 an hour for his work--part of which goes to the shop's owner--and is doing well enough to complain that he needs an accountant to help figure out his quarterly taxes. He drives an economy car and is thinking about making a down payment on a house.
But every time he's feeling up, he's brought back down by thoughts of the people he left behind. His big brother, Danny, the "Bang" to his "Boom." His childhood pal Francisco Martinez, "Pancho." And Frank "Little Bang" Vigil, who was like a younger brother. He thinks about "my homie," Alejandro "Speed" Ornelas--even his cousin, Sammy "Zig Zag" Quintana, "the snitch." Thinks of where they are today--behind bars--and thinks about how they'll spend every Christmas for the rest of their lives behind bars.
He understands that they put themselves there. Long before the murders of Venus Montoya and Brandy DuVall, starting when they were boys just recruited into a gang, they made decisions that led to this consequence. It's like climbing in the car of a rollercoaster: Once the guy releases the brake, you can't get off until the end of the ride.
Except that somehow, Antonio did.
This compounds the guilt that Antonio feels. He found a way out, but "they didn't bother to think life could be better than this."
Antonio understands there has to be retribution for the deaths of the two women. It's one thing when gang members kill each other--the authorities jump on those crimes only if it fits their overall plan for attacking the gangs. But the two girls weren't gang members. They were innocent victims.
Still, the deal Sammy got for pointing the finger at Frank, at Pancho and, soon, at Danny, is tough to swallow. "It hurts my heart," he says. "It's like he's dead to me now." Sammy is the star witness for the prosecution.
"What kind of fucked-up justice system is this?" Antonio asks. "The guy who helped kill Brandy DuVall gets 16 to 96 years because he told on everybody else around? When it happened, he was just as involved...even more involved than they say my brother was. It's no wonder gangs think the system is just as corrupt as they are."
He's angry at other members of his extended family, too, for turning their backs on Danny. When the gang was making a lot of money in the drug trade, Danny was particularly generous toward his relatives. Buying clothes and shoes for the kids. Handing out money to any relative who asked. "There weren't a lot of people standing around with their hands in their pockets," Antonio remembers. "You know what I mean? But now it's all our fault. We influenced the others, like Frankie.
"What they did, they did on their own. We were who we were."
If it weren't so serious for his brother, Antonio would laugh at the prosecution team presenting the DuVall case "like a big Godfather movie," with Danny portrayed as the capo, the boss and unquestioned leader of a large and sinister crime syndicate, the Deuce-Seven.
"I suppose there was a time a long time ago when we might have been considered 'leaders,' because we started the Deuce-Seven," he says. "And I suppose some of them little 'busters looked up to us because we had been around for so long. But that didn't make us leaders. It made us survivors."
By May 30, 1997, the Deuce-Seven was at the end of its ride--still dangerous, as the gang members proved to Brandy DuVall--but more a band of a few relatives and friends than an organized-crime empire. "By the time all of this happened," Antonio says, "there was about five or six guys that hung around together. We were all equals. We just liked doing the same things.
"It wasn't like we had rules or told people what to do."
In fact, Antonio had long since given up gangbanging and just enjoyed hanging with friends. And Danny, he says, was an alcoholic, hiding from the police because of a drug-dealing charge, with no money and little power on the streets except by reputation.
If anybody was angling to be the leader, it was Sammy, who'd joined the gang later and was still enthralled with the trappings of gangsterhood. "He wanted it so bad," Antonio says. "It was changing his whole persona. He went from this nice kid from the suburbs, the soccer star and all-city band guy, to always going to clubs and wanting to be the high-roller. He didn't need any of this--he had a good job, a girl, a nice place and a brand-new car--he wanted it."
Antonio thinks of Danny, of Pancho, of Frank locked down in their cells all but a few hours every day. Of the three, seventeen-year-old Frankie seems in the best spirits. "He still holds out a little hope that someday he may get out," Antonio says. "He may be an old man when he does...Still, he's awake to the possibility...More power to the kid."
Pancho isn't afraid, even with a death-penalty hearing looming in May. "He was never scared of anything," Antonio says. "If he is now, he's not showing it to anybody...Everybody keeps sayin' what a monster he is, but he's taking this like a man."
But Danny is not used to being locked up. When he writes, he talks about missing the streets. He can't hide his envy of Antonio's freedom...and future.
Back when Antonio was struggling to stay in high school, part of what drove him was the belief that he was going to have to "be there" for Danny someday. Now he feels an obligation to continue down the road he's on, to become a success, so that he can look out for Danny's twin boys.
"I want to be there to tell them about their dad," he says. "His kids are going to have to deal with a lot of shit. I don't want them to assume their dad was all bad...I won't hide what we did from them, but they should know that he was also a good man who did a lot of nice things for the people he loved--but that he got caught up in some bad shit."
Danny's first-degree-murder trial is set for February. If he's convicted, the district attorney has promised to go for the death penalty. Antonio says Danny's lawyers have warned him to stay out of the process. His mother worries that if Antonio makes any attempt to speak out on behalf of his brother, the DA will look for ways to go after him.
When Danny went on the run after Brandy DuVall's murder, Antonio faced the toughest decision of his life: to help his brother or stay away. Although Antonio had been at Uncle Joe's earlier that night, he'd left before Brandy DuVall arrived--even the government witnesses agreed on that. And those who'd stayed didn't tell Antonio what happened. "I didn't know they were even involved until people started getting arrested," he says.
The police were looking for Danny, and the district attorney's investigators had made it clear that they'd go after anyone who helped him. So Antonio told his brother he couldn't help. He couldn't hide him or even take his phone calls. After that, other people had to tell him that his brother was okay.
Danny said he understood. For one of the few times in their lives, they would not be facing the consequences together.
"I had to protect myself," Antonio says. Now back at his mother's apartment, he picks up his daughter, Patricia, squeezes her until she giggles and protests. "There were others who weren't smart enough, or loved Danny so much they placed themselves in harm's way.
"I love him, too. But it would have been like trying to save him by chasing out after him into traffic. We both woulda got hit."
Six days after Brandy DuVall died, with Francisco Martinez already in jail on drug charges, Danny Martinez and Sammy Quintana robbed some other drug dealers at gunpoint. The pair then returned to Jose Martinez's house at 3165 West Hawthorne in Adams County--Uncle Joe's--to divide the spoils. That's when they decided to get rid of the mattress soaked with Brandy's blood.
A few days later, an informant called the police and talked about a young girl who'd been raped at Uncle Joe's on May 30--the girl whose body had been found the next day.
The cops visited Jose Martinez on June 12, and Uncle Joe started talking. They had the devil in them.
Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Hal Sargent was in a meeting discussing where to go with the Venus Montoya homicide when another investigator came in and asked what they knew about these guys in the Deuce-Seven.
They were looking at the same names--one in particular. Samuel Merced Quintana Jr., aka "Zig Zag," had been implicated by informants in the deaths of both Venus Montoya and Brandy DuVall.
Quintana's automobile was impounded for tests. Although Sammy had cleaned and detailed the car, a tiny amount of blood was found on the backseat. Brandy's. More was found on the front passenger-door handle. A mix of Brandy's and Pancho's.
The gang knew someone was talking. But who? Sammy and Danny questioned David "Baby G" Warren, who had been there that night. They warned him about the hazards of snitching and told him to warn the others.
On June 16, Sammy Quintana and several others who'd been at Uncle Joe's that night, including Frank Vigil, were arrested for the murder of Brandy DuVall. Two days later, Sammy began to talk. He filled in the gap in the story of what had happened to Brandy after she was taken from Uncle Joe's house before dawn on May 31.
Sammy implicated himself and his fellow gang members in Brandy's death. He also talked to Lakewood police detective Scott Richardson about the Montoya killing a year earlier, a conversation that resulted in murder charges being filed against Sammy, Alejandro Ornelas and Alejandro's brother, Gerard. Next to have at Sammy were the Denver police, who wanted to discuss the criminal activities of the CMG Bloods.
By August 5, 1997, Sammy had a deal in place. He'd plead guilty to two second-degree-murder charges, each worth a possible 48 years. The first-degree-murder charges and the potential death sentence were dropped. But there were two conditions. When he testified against the others, he had to answer everything truthfully--and it could not turn out that Sammy had shot Venus or stabbed Brandy.
Two days later, Sammy was again interviewed about Brandy's murder. This time he gave up the details, including his role in Brandy's death.
Locked up in jail, neither Frank Vigil nor Pancho Martinez were talking.
Danny Martinez and David Warren were on the run. Warren was soon caught, though, and admitted that he'd bitten Brandy's left breast, leaving the impression of his teeth. He told police that at one point, when Frank left him and Sammy alone with the girl, Sammy told him to get her out of the house.
It was the only suggestion of anyone having a moment's compassion for the doomed girl. But Warren's remark was tempered by an image Uncle Joe supplied: of Sammy advancing on the girl with a knife and then with video-game cords, as if to strangle her.
By now investigators had also talked to Pancho's girlfriend, who'd told them that Pancho, Danny, Sammy and Frank had showed up at her house around dawn on May 31, 1997. They had cleaned up in her kitchen sink. Later, as Pancho caught a few hours' sleep, she'd washed his clothes and had seen what appeared to be dried blood on his pants and shoes.
Danny's run ended December 30, 1997. Detective Ralph Gagliard of the Trinidad Police Department had been alerted by the Jeffco DA's office to watch for a fugitive wanted on murder and sex-assault charges. Danny Martinez had relatives living in the Trinidad area.
While driving through a grocery-store parking lot late that afternoon, Gagliard saw a car matching the description of one owned by Danny's relatives. He thought he saw a man in the backseat matching the Jeffco alert: Hispanic male, five-foot-eight, shaved head.
Gagliard parked and donned a ball cap and flannel shirt so he could get a better view. He was looking for the tattoo Danny was supposed to have on his neck, one that said "Teresa"--the name of the mother of his children.
Convinced the Jeffco suspect was in the car, Gagliard drove back to the police department and asked his chief, James Montoya, to return to the parking lot as his backup.
When they arrived, the car was empty, so the officers went into the grocery store. They saw their suspect and walked by him several times, trying to spot the tattoo, but he was wearing headphones around his neck. Judging from the photograph they'd been sent by Jeffco, though, the officers had their man.
They followed the suspect as he walked out to the parking lot and got in the car. They approached it with guns drawn, identifying themselves as police officers, and ordered him out.
The suspect got out but began waving his arms and belligerently asking what he had done wrong. Montoya grabbed his arm, and the two officers walked him away from the car in order to pat him down for weapons. But he resisted their attempts.
In the meantime, a woman who'd been in the car approached. "Leave him alone," she yelled. "He didn't do nothin'."
Gagliard feared that the suspect was preparing to run or fight. So he thought quickly and asked why he was making such a fuss over a "shoplifting" arrest. At that the suspect relaxed and allowed himself to be handcuffed.
On the way to the police station, Gagliard finally got a good look at the suspect's neck. Teresa. He asked the young man his name and date of birth.
"Henry Vigil," Danny Martinez said but then gave his correct date of birth. February 29, 1972. The police officers knew who they had and told him so. After a moment, Danny admitted they were right.
"How did you find me?" he asked. They didn't respond.
"When are they gonna come pick me up?" Danny was referring to Jeffco authorities, but they didn't answer that question, either. He nodded and said, "I hope they hurry."
Three days after Christmas 1998, there are few reminders of the holidays in Theresa Swinton's Denver apartment. Although her faith remains strong, she doesn't feel like celebrating.
Danny had been at her house when the news came on about the first arrests in the Brandy DuVall homicide. They were members of Danny's gang. The Deuce-Seven. She'd asked him if he had had anything to do with it. "He said, 'I didn't stab her, Mom.'" Theresa looks down. No, he didn't stab her, but...
Theresa had not helped Danny when he was on the run. She'd been too afraid. She wouldn't even let his supporters tell her where he was...She just wanted to know he was all right. "I understand a lot of people helped him even though they were afraid," she says. "He'd show up and they'd say, 'You can stay today, but tomorrow you got to go. He'd say, 'I understand,' crash for the night and leave the next morning."
During the seven months her son was a fugitive, she'd tried not to think about what he and the others had done to "that little girl." But she knew that couldn't last. "I'm not looking for magic to get Danny off," she says. "If he took part in what happened, then he needs to suffer the consequences.
"All I ask is that the lawyers do their job. And if Danny's convicted...," she has to pause to keep from crying, "...and if he's convicted, I hope they can talk the judges out of killing him."
Her entire family is suffering, branded by the monstrous things her eldest son is accused of doing. Her daughter, Raquel, doesn't want to believe what others are saying about her brother. She is angry, mistrustful. But she's also strong and has her own children to worry about, so she will get through this.
It's Antonio who worries Theresa the most. Like her, he tends to withdraw and turn inside when troubled. He's worked so hard to move beyond his past--but the connection is not completely severed. There's still danger, and not just from former enemies who would take advantage of the fact that some of his compatriots are dead, the rest locked up.
Guilt is also a danger to Antonio. He has so much guilt that he once told Theresa he wished he could be with his brother and friends in jail.
It bothers her when he talks tough, blames the wrong people for what his brother and friends are going through. They have themselves to blame. But she also knows about the nightmares and remembers the time that Antonio broke down and cried, "Mom, you have no idea of the things we've done." At least the tears proved he had a conscience.
She knows enough about what they were capable of just from reading transcripts from the trials of Frank and Pancho. And while they say Danny didn't stab Brandy, for her it's damning enough that he stood on that mountainside while others did and made no move to help the girl.
In this dark time, Theresa holds fast to her faith. Whatever happens, it's what God intends. "Even if it's the death penalty, I don't presume to know the Lord's reasons, only that there is a reason...yeah."
If the state doesn't kill Danny, Antonio has told her what life will be like for him in a maximum-security prison. Twenty-three hours a day in a tiny cell. Only so many photographs of family and friends allowed in the cell. Bad food, bad company. Long days and longer nights spent knowing that there will be nothing better tomorrow.
"It still sounds better than what they did to her," she says.
Although Theresa blames rap music for providing a soundtrack for her son's violence, Danny listened to many kinds of music. He was especially fond of ballads. When he called on Christmas Day, he asked her to play love songs. "He was cut off before the second song was over," she says.
Just like his life, like Brandy's life, the lives of all these young people...cut off before the song was over.
"It's in God's hands now," she says. "I tell Danny, 'Be ready now. If it's your wish in the end to go to heaven where someday we can all be together again, be ready now.'"
February 22, 1999
One last trial. Two grieving mothers on opposite sides of the aisle, each aware of the other's suffering. Neither wishing it on the other.
Sitting behind her son, Danny, Theresa Swinton tries to tell herself that she is ready for this. She has prepared herself by watching violent movies and reading crime books.
But she knows in her heart that all the preparation in the world won't block out the horror. She doesn't want to watch Brandy's mother, Angela, go through the inventory of her daughter's jewelry for a third time. Hear her describe seeing her child's lifeless body on the coroner's steel table. Wake up, baby. Wake up.
She does not want to see her cry. Does not want her to hurt anymore. But she knows it's impossible for either of them to avoid it.
It was difficult enough sitting through jury selection, listening to some people beg off because they disliked "Mexicans." One man claimed that looking at Danny made his skin crawl. She sat there taking notes, so that she could feel she was doing something for her son--and that frightened one potential juror so much that the judge made an order that no one could take notes in the public courtroom.
Still, Theresa likes this judge, Leland Anderson. He's fair, and he treats Danny like a human being...even if it's just to politely inquire at the beginning of each day if Danny's had something to eat. "Yes, your honor," Danny always says, and the process goes forward.
She's also satisfied with the jurors who were seated--six women and eight men, two of them alternates. They swore they would keep an open mind, that the state would have to prove Danny's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. And she believes them.
The opening statements had been given on Friday, three days earlier. Nothing prosecutor Ingrid Bakke had said surprised her. It was essentially the same opening she'd delivered at the trials of Frank and Pancho. In the early morning hours of the last day of May 1997, a small, four-door...wound its way up Clear Creek Canyon...In the backseat are two men; seated between them is a fourteen-year-old girl. She can't see because her eyes are covered...She can't use her hands because they are cuffed behind her back...She's in pain. She is crying and she is afraid.
This time, though, there was one crucial difference. This time, when Bakke pointed to the man she wants the jury to hold responsible, she pointed at Danny.
Defense attorney David Lindsey had followed Bakke. Standing fifteen feet from a young Mexican-American male, he invoked the imagery of "your ancestors and my ancestors" forcing the king of England to sign the Magna Carta to establish the beginning of the American justice system.
He wrapped his opening with a much-used "personal" anecdote. It's a story about how Lindsey and his best friend and his best friend's dog, Charley, used to do everything together. One day the three went to Lindsey's house and discovered that his mother had made two rhubarb pies (sometimes it's blueberry or cherry pies). He and his friend had eaten one pie when they heard his mother driving up. Fearing her wrath, they threw the other pie on the floor and rubbed some of it on Charley's muzzle. The moral of the story, of course, is that the dog was framed.
"It took a long time for the guilt to build up to where I told what really happened," Lindsey said, explaining why he had become a defense attorney, a voice for "Charley and others like him."
The "rhubarb-pie defense" caused a great deal of tittering in the halls outside the courtroom after the jury was sent home for the weekend. "I thought the dog was going to get killed," said one observer.
"I thought the dog was going to be raped and then killed," said another.
They grew quiet when Theresa walked by on her way to the elevator. She was so mad she couldn't speak. A dog? Danny?
But by Monday she has calmed down. She's known all along that there won't be much of a defense presented for her son. Maybe there isn't one. Theresa puts her faith in God and wills herself to accept the outcome.
Across the aisle, Angela Metzger waits to testify for a third time. Although she can't understand why none of those young men, not one, tried to help her daughter, she places none of the blame for what happened on the other mother, on any of the other mothers or families. The mothers weren't there that night. If they had been, she believes, Brandy would still be alive.
Mostly, she just hurts. She loves her son, Tim, but Brandy was hers. All hers. And then she was ripped away from her.
Angela feels jealous when she sees other women with their children. She gets angry that everyone else still has their daughters. It's not fair. When other parents discuss their kids' activities, she can no longer horn in and boast about Brandy's accomplishments. She doesn't like having these feelings, but she can't help it.
It's not fair. She sees other girls getting ready for prom and talking about graduation. Brandy was so excited that hers would be in the year 2000.
Then she'll see some young girl flirting with boys driving cars on Federal Boulevard, yelling to attract their attention. She wants to ask, "My God, do you know what you're doing? Don't you know what happened?" But she passes them by. They wouldn't listen...When do kids ever listen?
A third trial, and it isn't getting any easier. She knows she doesn't have to be present when Uncle Joe or Sammy Quintana describes in graphic detail the torment and death of her little girl. But she thinks that if Brandy had to endure it, she must find the strength to listen. Maybe if everyone--gang members, parents, teachers, kids, politicians--had to hear what happened to Brandy, the whole ugly, brutal truth and not some whitewashed version, then maybe, just maybe, some of the madness could be stopped.
Others are certainly ready for it to end. Deputy District Attorney Sargent has been on the case the longest. He's tired, emotionally and physically. After fifteen years as a prosecutor, not many cases give him nightmares. This one does. At one point he had to remove Brandy's autopsy photographs from his office. Even if he didn't look at them, he couldn't handle knowing they were there, knowing what they depicted. It will be a long time before he and his colleagues, Ingrid Bakke and Mark Randall, get over this enormous waste of lives. If they ever do.
Early on, Sargent had hoped that Frank Vigil would turn state's evidence. He was so young, maybe even redeemable. As the youngest, he could have been the weak link among the four men who drove with Brandy to her death. Maybe they could make a deal. But after listening to Vigil lie for several hours during an interview, Sargent had no longer wanted to make any concessions. Frank might be a kid, but he was a dangerous kid. He didn't feel sorry for Brandy. He only felt sorry for himself.
It was easier for Sargent to prosecute Vigil once he had that insight into who the kid really was: a gangbanger with no remorse. A real nigga like you and Pancho.
The prosecutors had known that Vigil would be the toughest case to bring before a jury. Not just because of his age, but because there was no evidence that he'd sexually assaulted Brandy or so much as touched her on that mountainside. But he had encouraged the others, then planted the seed that Brandy had to die, and finally had served as one of her guards to make sure she couldn't flee from the car. When the jury came back with a guilty verdict for Frank Vigil, the prosecutors knew the next trial would be a snap.
It was easier to prosecute Francisco Martinez. Pancho was what Vigil was on his way to becoming: a sociopath. In 1994, he'd been accused of wounding two members of his own gang who had not shown him enough respect. But the two (both of whom are now serving time on another murder charge) recanted and wouldn't cooperate with prosecutors. According to court documents, at the time of Brandy's death, Pancho was a suspect in the shooting of his father-in-law's friend; that man claimed he couldn't identify his attacker, however. And there were accusations of other rapes; during one, Pancho was said to have slashed a beautiful young woman's face with a beer bottle when she tried to help a friend. But she, too, had been afraid to testify.
If the actions of the others could be explained as twisted self-preservation--murdering Brandy so they wouldn't go to prison for raping her--there was simply no way of understanding what drove Pancho to sodomize her with a broom or cut her anus with a knife.
Pancho's wife complained that her husband didn't get a fair trial. But witness after witness had testified that on a night of insanity, he was the craziest of them all.
Sammy Quintana was harder to understand. He was the only double-murderer. His part in Brandy's death was second only to Pancho's. And yet Sargent believed his remorse was genuine.
Before this trial was over, Sammy would have one more opportunity to prove him right. But there was a long way to go before then.
The questioning of Jose Martinez, Uncle Joe, falls again to prosecutor Mark Randall. He finds it one of the more unsavory aspects of his job.
The prosecution had heard that Brandy was not the first girl raped by the Deuce-Seven. Stories were rampant about gang members showing up at parties and sexually assaulting young women as an in your face challenge to the girls' boyfriends. But most of the informants behind these stories were too frightened to come forward.
In 1997, however, Deuce-Seven member Francisco Guzman had been convicted of raping a twelve-year-old girl at gunpoint. And another young woman, Brandy Cunningham, later told investigators she had been raped by the gang at Uncle Joe's just one week before Brandy's death.
When asked about this, Uncle Joe claimed he'd "rescued" Cunningham by getting her out of the house when one of the younger members of the gang started waving a pistol around. But no one believed Uncle Joe was any kind of hero.
In fact, on the night Brandy died, he'd been nothing but a coward. He claimed to have "fought" Sammy Quintana for the knife and the strangling cords. That he'd demanded they leave his house and do no further harm to the girl. That he was afraid of the Bloods, his own nephew "Danny Boy."
But there was one extraordinary exception to Uncle Joe's cowardice. When he could have walked away, he'd insisted on testifying.
The prosecution had briefly considered charging him. After all, he had helped destroy evidence. But there were moral crimes and prosecutable crimes. Although he was certainly guilty of the first, proving the second might have been problematic. And they needed him as a cooperative witness. So they told him he wasn't going to be charged no matter what he decided to do. Testify or run, he was free to go.
The prosecutors were surprised when he said he'd testify. It wasn't going to be popular with his family, and it could be dangerous, since it would certainly earn him a "snitch jacket" with the Bloods. But Uncle Joe said he owed it to the girl.
Without him, their cases would have been much weaker. His testimony corroborated--if not exactly, at least in many aspects--that of other witnesses, particularly Sammy Quintana, to whom he had less allegiance than he did to his nephew Danny or Frank Vigil, the son of one of his oldest friends.
Now Randall calls Uncle Joe to the stand for a third time. Although Danny is sitting only ten feet away, Uncle Joe doesn't look at him...or beyond to his former sister-in-law, Theresa, and her family.
"How long have you known Danny?" Randall asks.
"Since he was born."
"And Frank Vigil?"
"Since he was born."
"And does Danny have a brother?"
"Is he in the same gang?"
"Was," Uncle Joe says. "When all this happened, he was starting to pull away from it all...and I'm glad of that."
Uncle Joe goes on to accuse Danny of having the most sexual contact with the girl. Of wandering around the house with blood on his legs and boxer shorts. A sickening man.
Theresa tries to listen impassively to Uncle Joe, a man she looked up to like an older brother when she was a teen bride. But as he describes her son's behavior, she covers her face with a hand. Only after she has regained control does she look back up.
Outside the courthouse, after Uncle Joe is through testifying, she says, "I sat there hoping that I could listen to him and hear the truth...I do believe that he was awakened by the noise. I do believe he saw this going on.
"But I also believe that his response was, 'They're raping another girl...Get her out of here.' I don't believe for one minute that he was in fear for his life."
Uncle Joe had told the prosecutors that he didn't see Theresa between the time of Brandy's death and when the story broke that Danny was involved. That, she says, is a lie. He used to go to Raquel's house to get clothes for Danny and would run into her there.
"I would sit next to Joe and ask him to help me talk Danny into turning himself in on the drug charges," she recalls. "He knew about what happened that night, but you know what he told me? 'Danny does whatever he wants.'
"His only fear was possibly being connected to what happened. He did not fear for his life then. He does not fear for his life now. There is no one in his family who would harm him. That's just a big story they've all made up to make it look like this gang, Danny in particular, has all this power."
Theresa sighs. What does it matter, really?
At the trials of Alejandro Ornelas, Frank Vigil and Francisco Martinez, Deputy District Attorney Sargent has done the questioning of Sammy Quintana. After such a long association with the young man, he's torn by warring emotions.
Danny Martinez's brother, Antonio, questions why Sammy was allowed to wander free for a year after his part in Venus Montoya's murder. But Sargent knows that without Sammy's testimony, they didn't have a provable case against Alejandro Ornelas.
And without Sammy, many aspects of Uncle Joe's testimony in the Brandy DuVall murder trials would have had no corroboration. Worse, there would have been no one to continue the story from Uncle Joe's house up Clear Creek Canyon to highway mile marker 269.5. The jury would have been left to guess what happened between the time the gang left the house with Brandy and a couple of hours later, when four members showed up at the home of Pancho's girlfriend.
After Frank Vigil's trial, Sargent had asked the jurors how they'd perceived Sam Quintana. He'd been surprised when a female juror exclaimed, "I hated him. Just hated him!"
Sargent had worried there might be some backlash about the deal given to a double murderer. That's why the prosecutors in both their openings and closings had called up the old adage about how crimes committed in hell don't have angels for witnesses. With no angels for witnesses, the only way to bring justice to Brandy is to make deals with the devil. But still, the woman's vehemence was more than he'd anticipated.
Then Sargent realized she wasn't talking about Sammy. She was talking about defense attorney Randy Canney, who'd thoroughly grilled the witness, accusing him of the murder. "I hated the way he picked on him," she said.
Sammy's testimony had really shaken up some jurors. Intellectually, they'd understood that gangs were no longer just an inner-city problem. But here was this kid, the son of a Denver sheriff's deputy, raised in middle-class suburbia with all of the comforts and advantages that offered. And yet he'd wound up in a gang and involved in two of Jefferson County's most senseless, brutal murders.
Sammy was a charismatic, intelligent, well-spoken young man--and he had killed two young women. For Sargent, perhaps the most frightening thing about Sammy Quintana was that someone who did not come across as a monster was capable of such monstrous deeds.
He'd tried testing Sammy in their various discussions between trials. He wanted to see if he'd take an opportunity to minimize his actions. David Warren had testified that Sammy told him to get the girl out of the house. But when Sargent asked Sammy about this, he said he didn't remember making any such gesture.
In testimony about the Montoya homicide, Sammy had said that if his gun hadn't malfunctioned, he would have "shot at the door," even though there was a young woman behind it. To some, that seemed like a copout. But Sargent believed the statement was a typical gang viewpoint. In a drive-by, the object was to fill a space with as many bullets as possible--there was a better chance of hitting someone and less opportunity for the target to shoot back.
Sargent couldn't help but wonder what might have become of Sammy under other circumstances. The young man had told him he wanted to become a deputy like his father. After getting out of high school, he'd applied...but admitted to smoking marijuana and was rejected. He could have stopped smoking dope and reapplied in a year.
Instead, he turned to gangs and became his alter-ego. Zig Zag.
The day before this final trial, Sargent had spent three hours talking to Sammy. During that time, they'd talked about his upcoming testimony for perhaps twenty minutes.
The rest of the conversation focused on the emotional difficulty of this particular appearance on the witness stand and what Sammy's life was going to be like from here on out. He knew that not only would he be facing a cousin he professed to still love, but that he was also likely to see his cousin Raquel and his Aunt Theresa, who'd given him a place to stay when his parents were divorcing.
"This trial, I'm not testifying for myself," Sammy told him. "And I don't see it as being for or against Danny...It's about what I feel I owe Brandy's family."
Sargent can never be sure how much of what Sammy says on the witness stand has to do with self-preservation and how much with his conscience. But the prosecutor has dealt with thousands of defendants and witnesses, and he finds it hard to believe that anyone could fake the empathy that Sammy exhibits toward Brandy's family, fake the contrition over his role in their suffering. He's often told his colleagues that Sammy is either the best actor he's ever met or sincerely remorseful.
Others have also wondered. Becky Estrada, the grandmother who'd raised Venus Montoya, had attended part of Francisco Martinez's trial just to hear Sammy testify again. She'd told Sargent that she wanted to know if this one of her daughter's killers had fooled her with his tears the first time. If not, she was considering testifying on his behalf at Sammy's sentencing, after the last of the three trials for Brandy DuVall's murder.
When he and Sargent talked about what his life was going to be like, Sammy was under no illusions about what lay ahead. Part of his deal is that he will be allowed to serve his sentence out of state. But for the rest of his life, he will be looking over his shoulder and wondering when someone will learn his identity. There are Bloods in every prison system in the country, and Sammy has provided information not just about his local subset, but about members of the larger organization in Colorado.
And Bloods or not, anyone known as a snitch is always in danger from other prisoners. Sammy's time will be very, very hard.
The prosecutors have told each jury that they will be asking for the maximum sentence for Sammy: 96 years. But Sargent has now decided he has become too close to his witness to do what is necessary, to remember that 96 years is not too much to ask for the lives of two young women. He's asked Mark Randall to handle Sammy's sentencing.
February 24, 1999
The spectator gallery is nearly full when Danny's sister, Raquel, rushes into the courtroom for the first time. Her mother has urged her to stay away. She has a new job and can't take the time off.
"I'll handle this. You take care of your responsibilities," Theresa told her. She would like to protect her daughter from the reality of what's to come.
But Raquel has to hear Sammy's testimony. She needs to hear her cousin's condemnation of her brother from his own lips.
The Danny she knows was the loving, protective brother. Yes, he was in a gang, and violence between gang members was something to fear. She'd narrowly escaped it herself when others had come looking for her brothers and shot up the house at 2727 California while Raquel cowered with her newborn daughter in her arms.
But there's no way to come to terms with this...except to hear it for herself.
Sammy's father has not yet arrived. He has attended all of the other trials. A shamed, terribly hurt man...a sheriff's deputy whose son is proof that gangs can reach into any neighborhood, into any family, no matter what measures you take to escape them.
The witness is brought into the courtroom. Sammy is wearing glasses with black frames and silver rims that give him a studious appearance, despite the orange jail jumpsuit, the leg shackles and handcuffs. He does not look at his cousin or beyond Danny to the rest of the family as he begins his testimony.
In May 1997, he says, he had a three-year-old daughter and was part of a gang, a subset of the Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods known as the 27th Street Gang, "or Deuce-Seven."
"Where did the moniker for the set come from?" Sargent asks.
"It's a home my family owned for a long time."
"Who lived there?"
"My grandmother, Mary Rodarte," Sammy answers.
"Who else lived there?"
"My cousins, Danny and Antonio...my Auntie Theresa."
Theresa looks straight ahead, holding her eyes wide open to stop the tears. Raquel isn't as successful.
"When did the Deuce-Seven start?" Sargent asks.
"My cousins started the gang in 1988."
Sargent asks if he's aware of his aunt and cousin in the spectator gallery.
"Yes," he answers softly. He looks down at his feet.
"Is this easy for you?"
Sammy's voice cracks. "Regardless of what took place, they're still family. This is difficult to do however you look at it."
Sargent asks about the inner leadership of the Deuce-Seven, the crux of the prosecution's case against Danny. That he called the shots. That there is no rhubarb-pie defense.
Sammy says the top members were Danny, Antonio and Francisco. "Bang and Boom. And Pancho. I was right up there, also."
"Who was at the top?" Sargent asks.
"Danny and Antonio...I see Danny as having more authority."
Sargent asks who gave Frank Vigil the nickname "Little Bang."
"And what does that signify, 'Little Bang'?"
"Within the gang world or on the streets, names carry weight with other individuals doing the same thing. To be called 'Little Bang' gets respect, an extra card."
"Did Danny have the ability to tell others what to do?"
"His word would not be questioned too often," Sammy answers.
Sargent asks if Danny had the influence to stop something he didn't approve of.
"Are you still a member of the Deuce-Seven?"
"When did that change?"
"At the exact moment when I chose to do what I'm doing."
Sammy admits that when he was first arrested, he chose not to talk. But after two days in jail, he had "a change of heart" and told the authorities that he would talk with a lawyer present.
"I made the decision to come clean regarding all aspects of my life."
"Are you aware of the potential consequences of your cooperation?'
"It could put numerous people in danger."
"My family. Myself. Possibly my own cousins who are still with the gang...I think about that every day. I've had to weigh it against what's right."
"Why are you cooperating?"
"It's what needed to be done," Sammy replies. "It took all of this to make me find myself...to leave the gang life."
Sargent notes that Sammy made a deal that eliminated the possibility of the death penalty. "Is that the only reason?"
"No. I wanted to be able to look in the mirror and know I had a conscience."
Sammy testifies that the girl he now knows as Brandy was brought to the house by David Warren. "He was the first through the door. He said he had a girl who was down to have sex with everyone."
"Any idea of when they met her, how they got her into their car?"
"What happened then?"
"Two seconds afterward, other members of the gang came in, and one had his arm around Brandy."
"Did you know her name?"
Sammy shakes his head. "I didn't know her name until I read it in the newspaper."
Sargent asks about the position of Brandy's head as she entered the room.
"Downward," Sammy recalls. "As if she was blocking her face. She was led toward the bathroom."
"She introduced to the other two girls?"
"She wasn't introduced to anyone." In the bathroom there was a discussion about who had cocaine.
"Because she wanted some." Earlier in the trial, David Warren had testified that his cocaine was given to the girl. But Sammy claims it was his.
Sargent asks if the cocaine was for his own use.
Sammy shakes his head. "No. I bought it earlier to sell." Although gangs like the Bloods and Crips sell cocaine for their livelihood, Sammy says it is a "violation" for members to use it.
"How is the word 'violation' used in gangs?" Sargent asks.
"It means not acceptable."
After Brandy was given cocaine, Francisco Martinez took the girl's clothes off and carried her into Uncle Joe's bedroom and put her on the bed.
"Does Brandy say something?"
"She says that before she does anything, she wants to make a phone call."
Sammy was the only one in the house with a telephone. He asked her for the number and began dialing, then "made a decision not to let her make a telephone call."
"Why?" Sargent asked.
"I don't know," Sammy shrugs. He'd loaned his telephone to another girl at the house that night, and she had used it to call some other guy. "I didn't know who she would call, and I chose not to let her."
Sargent asks if his refusal seemed to frighten Brandy.
"There was a change in her demeanor," Sammy concedes.
"Did somebody then have sex with her?"
Sammy nods. "Yes, at that point I took the initiative and had sex."
"What kind?" It is important for the prosecution to establish this for what will come later.
"Vaginal sex," he says. He used a condom and when he finished he left the room.
The jury is beginning to look uncomfortable as Sammy's testimony moves inexorably toward the horror they've already encountered through Uncle Joe's account.
Sammy again nods. "Yes. Beer. Some hard alcohol...there was a lot of alcohol being drank." The television was on loud. A radio in the kitchen was turned up. People were yelling and crashing around.
"So much alcohol that you had no control?" Sargent asks.
"So much that you were not responsible for your actions?"
Sammy shakes his head and looks down at his feet. "I'm still responsible for my actions."
Brandy was kept in the back bedroom for an hour and a half, maybe two hours. By then the other two girls had left. Sammy was out in the living room when Pancho went after Jacob "Smiley" Casados. "Francisco concluded that Smiley was not 'down'...that he hadn't been beaten into the gang. He decided to 'quote' him right there."
"What do you mean, 'quote'?"
"Initiate into the gang." Pancho punched Smiley in the face, knocking him down. When the younger boy got back up, "I socked him and he went back down again," Sammy says. Two other young men, Eddie and Mikey--who'd arrived at the house with Casados, the Warrens and the girls--took off.
Later that night, Sammy says, he explained to Smiley the great honor of having been beat into the gang by two gang members as far up the totem pole as Pancho and Zig Zag. Smiley was instructed on the difference between "being down for the gang and just being a wannabe."
"Does who put you into the gang carry significance?" Sargent asks.
"Yeah," Sammy says. "It carries weight."
They all troop back to the bedroom "to see what's going on." There Sammy instructed Smiley to "go receive oral sex."
Sammy shrugs. Smiley was now a member of the gang entitled to all that represented. And it was important that he understood they were "all playing a part in what was taking place."
"Somebody else get oral sex?"
"Myself." Meanwhile, Pancho was behind the girl "trying to have sex anally...She asked him not to do that...'anything but that.'"
As at the other two trials, Brandy's family members sit with their heads bowed, tears running down their faces. This time, the family on the other side of the aisle is also crying for the lost girl. The prosecutor's questions keep falling like the tolling of a bell.
"What then?" Sargent asks.
"I remember Francisco attempting to shove a broom up in her."
"Where did he try to shove the broom?"
"Up her anus."
Sargents asks Sammy what he did at that point.
"I got up and left. I did not agree with what he was doing...I didn't think it was proper to try to use this kind of object on her."
"In what manner did he use the broom?"
"A forceful manner."
"Where was your cousin?"
"I don't know if he was present or not."
But when Sammy returned to the bedroom fifteen minutes later, Danny was again having intercourse with Brandy, who was now on her back.
"Did you notice anything unusual?"
"There was an odor in the air...the smell of feces. I was aware it was coming from her."
Brandy's family looks beaten. But they stay in their seats, silent witnesses one last time. The jurors, who had thought it couldn't get worse than Uncle Joe's testimony, realize they were wrong.
"What about blood?" Sargent asks.
"I believe there was blood at that time."
Danny and Pancho took Brandy to the shower. "You go to the bathroom?"
Yes. He saw Brandy lying on the floor. There was a lot of blood on the floor. The testimony of David Warren comes flooding back to mind...the girl bleeding from her rectum and a bloody knife on the bathroom counter.
Sammy says he saw Pancho kneeling by the girl. A toilet plunger was in his hand or near it.
"You see anybody use a knife?"
"Were you able to see what caused the blood?"
"No," he replies. As soon as he saw it, he went back into the living room. "I don't enjoy looking at blood."
And still the nightmare continued for Brandy. Later, Sammy saw her back in the bedroom, on her hands and knees having sex with Danny.
"She seem to be enjoying this?"
"Anybody having more sex than the others?"
Sammy hesitates, but only for a moment. "Yes. My cousin Danny." He says he was aware of blood on his cousin's legs and on his boxers. Danny, who had been listening intently, shakes his head.
"Can you tell where it was coming from?"
"No." The girl was taken back into the shower by Danny.
At this point, Sammy says, Frank Vigil told him, "Man, we got to kill her. She's seen our faces...We'll all wind up in prison if we let her walk out." That same message was "conveyed" to all the others.
After taking the girl back to the bedroom, Danny emerged and took control, Sammy says. His cousin asked, "Who's got a gun?" But they were all aware that "she had to go."
"Did you ever think, 'No, this is crazy...We don't have to kill her?'"
"Not verbally," Sammy says. "But I was thinking to myself, 'How do I get out of this?'"
Brandy's stepfather is weeping steadily now. It's too much, and it never seems to end. One day he went up to the cross the family had erected in the mountains where Brandy died and discovered that someone had written "bitch" on the memorial. Where are these kids' consciences?
At last, Sammy's father enters the courtroom. His black deputy's shirt is partially hidden beneath a blazer. At first he sits on the defense side, but the reception is cold. He quickly gets up and moves over to the prosecution side, taking a seat where his son can easily see him.
"Did anybody say anything in this girl's defense?" Sargent asks.
Brandy had been brought out of the back bedroom by Danny. She was wearing only a baggy pair of blue jeans, and her hands were cuffed behind her. Danny placed a hooded T-shirt over her--backward so she couldn't see. She was forced to sit by the front door and listen to her tormentors discuss ending her life.
No one had a gun, so the gang began discussing other means of "taking her out."
"Anybody controlling that discussion?" Sargent asks.
"Everybody was giving their opinion...but my cousin is in control."
At one point, there's a council meeting in the back bedroom between Sammy, Pancho, Frank, Danny and David Warren, where they discuss also killing Smiley. David sticks up for his pal. But later, the others will consider killing the Warrens as well. However, Sammy pointed out that Eddie and Mikey had already run away and might talk if their friends disappeared.
Danny decides that to ensure Smiley's silence, they'll make him kill the girl. Sammy recalls that it was Pancho--not Little Frank, as Uncle Joe testified--who asked the girl if she knew where she was.
"I don't know if it would have changed anything," Sammy says, "but she gave the wrong answer...she knew where she was, 60th and Federal."
"What happened?" Sargent asks.
"Francisco socked her in the head."
"And what is she doing?"
"She's asking just to be let go. For somebody to take her to a hospital," Sammy replies. "She was told to be quiet. 'Don't say anything.'"
Uncle Joe had claimed he'd been yelling at the gang from the beginning, but Sammy says the older man mostly wandered around during the rape. He didn't start complaining until he heard them discuss killing Brandy--and then it was to tell them to "not do anything here."
Sammy concedes that he had the knife and then the video-game cords. In the earlier trials, he said he got the knife because he grew tired of everyone talking and no one taking any action. This time his explanation is somewhat different. Now, he says, he was just suggesting ways someone else could kill her. He was letting it "be known that this was a way a life could be taken."
When at last the gang left the house, the plan was for Brandy to get in David Warren's car along with his brother and Smiley. They were told they should follow Sammy's car into the mountains. But David said he was going to have to stop and get gas, which might put them at risk of discovery.
So instead, Frank and Danny put Brandy in the tiny backseat of Sammy's car, still hooded and handcuffed, while they crammed in on either side to prevent her escape. At some point, the car with the others turned off and didn't follow.
"Was there a different status between the gang members in your car and the people in David Warren's car?"
"The people in my car I would have trusted with my life," Sammy says.
"Was there any doubt in your mind about what was going to happen?"
"And what was going to happen?"
"Her life was going to be taken."
The car with the four young men and one frightened girl rolled toward the mountains. The radio was on, loud rap music. The bass was beating the inside of the vehicle like a drum. But not so loud that Sammy couldn't hear the girl begging in the back. "I won't say anything. I don't know you. Please don't do this."
Now Sammy, too, is in tears. "She was pleading, crying for her life not to be taken."
Brandy began to struggle. While her escorts restrained her, Pancho leaned back from the passenger seat and began stabbing her in the stomach with a knife.
"Did the stabbing stop at some point?" Sargent asks.
Sammy nods. "I told him not to." But like Uncle Joe, who was worried about his clothes, Sammy admits, "I did not want to get blood in my car."
Pancho cooperated by attempting to strangle Brandy instead. At last she stopped struggling.
"She still alive?" Sargent asks.
"Pancho said, 'It's not working,' so I guess she must have been still breathing."
As they headed west on Highway 6 out of Golden, Sammy kept asking his homeboys where to pull over. At first they couldn't agree, but finally they settled on a pull-off across the highway. Highway mile marker 269.5.
Sammy made a U-turn so that the car was pointed back down the highway, with the passenger side closest to the creek that rushed through the canyon.
"What happened?" Sargent asks.
"Everybody in the car got out," Sammy replies slowly, reluctantly. He didn't see, or can't remember, who pulled Brandy from the car. By the time he got out and around the back, Pancho had forced the girl to the ground, face down, her head toward the river.
"What did Francisco do?"
"He began to stab her," Sammy says, choking over the words, "in her neck."
"Where were Danny Martinez and Frank Vigil?"
"Just standin' there."
"Were they in a position to see?"
Sammy says he was told to hold the girl still. "I kneeled down and held her head," he says, his breath trembling, "by her hair."
"What did Francisco do?"
"He continued to stab her?"
"How many times?"
At last he stopped. Then "myself and Panch picked her up and threw her down the side...five, maybe ten feet."
"Did you believe that she was still alive?"
"I didn't know."
The four young men got back in the car, only for Pancho to announce that he'd dropped the knife. "Danny went back out, retrieved the knife and came back and gave it to Pancho. We drove away."
They left Brandy alone in the dark.
Brandy did not give up. She stood and fell, stood again, but the steepness of the slope she'd been thrown down propelled her backwards, toward the creek. Until finally, she fell on her back and closed her eyes for the last time.
The gang members who were now her killers cruised back toward the gray dawn. "Anybody say anything that stuck in your mind?" Sargent asks.
"Yes," Sammy says. "My cousin Danny said, 'We're serial killers now.'"
Theresa sits outside the Jefferson County courthouse. It's an unseasonably warm day and the bench is in the sun, but she shakes as though cold.
She thanks God that only one autopsy photograph was shown on the television monitor. She had prayed, Please, Lord, don't make me see this, and the judge had ordered that only the jury be shown the rest.
The trial is over, except for closing arguments. And, of course, the jury's decision.
Danny's lawyers took a few obligatory jabs at Sammy's testimony. Noting, as had all the other defense lawyers, the deal he'd received. Questioning why he hadn't revealed such details as how he held Brandy's head while Pancho stabbed the girl--until after a deal was in the works.
"I wasn't ready to reveal the extreme details," Sammy replied.
Theresa doesn't believe that Sammy testified out of conscience. "He did it only to save himself," she says. "He didn't have this attack of conscience until he was sitting in jail, wondering how he was going to get out of two murder charges."
Still, she says, she doesn't blame him. In fact, she wishes Danny would have had the sense to do the same. "I have no animosity towards him or his family," she says. "I miss my sister. We weren't that close before all this, but still, we should have been able to comfort and support each other at this time."
For Theresa, it doesn't matter if what each of the witnesses said was completely true or not. "What is true is he was there," she says of her eldest son. "And he didn't try to help her or try to get himself out of the situation. He made a decision in that house and then again on the mountaintop that night. Now he has to deal with the consequences."
When all is said and done, she blames her sons for what they've put her through. Her lament is one that every mother, wife, sister and child of a gang member knows--when a boy joins a gang, like it or not, so does the rest of his family. Their lives are put at risk. They become outcasts in their own neighborhoods.
"They don't see what they're doing to us," Theresa says as the tears tumble from her cheeks, dotting her pantsuit. "I'll tell you what's in the purse of every gang mother. It's filled with paperwork from courts. And there's a calendar full of when their sons have hearings or trials.
"We can't keep good jobs, because what kind of a job is going to let you have all that time off so that you can go to court to support your son? But they don't have to see their mothers or children struggling to get by on food stamps and welfare, wondering where they're going to live tomorrow. They get to sit in a warm, comfortable place with all their buddies, color television and three hot meals a day.
"Every one of those boys in this case is getting off easy compared to the destruction they've done to their families."
Theresa stops. She doesn't want anyone thinking that she's feeling sorry for herself. Not when the families of Venus Montoya and Brandy DuVall have suffered so much worse. But still, it frustrates her that nothing has been learned from this tragedy.
"Eight young lives were lost that night," she says. "And more will be lost."
Yet someone like Lonnie Lynn, who rescued Antonio with his Amer-I-Can program, can't get enough funding to offer more than a class here and there. Even a few volunteers to help him with paperwork while he reaches out to kids would be something.
Before Venus Montoya was killed, when Danny was in the halfway house on a drug charge, he'd contacted Lynn. He'd seen what the program had done for his brother, and now, under forced sobriety, he asked about getting into Amer-I-Can. Maybe, Danny said, he could get some of the other guys interested. But at the time, Lynn had no funding for the program. And so when Danny got out, it was back to the bottle and back to the streets.
"Here is a man who has mortgaged his house to try to keep his program alive. A man who wants to work with these kids. But we'd rather throw all these young men and women into a prison, where we don't have to worry about them...until they get out."
February 26, 1999
One more time, a fifth-floor courtroom is filled to capacity as everyone awaits a verdict. Brandy's family members sit on one side, holding hands, glad the trials will finally be over.
Angela plans to speak at Francisco Martinez's death-penalty hearing in May. Not to call for retribution and a lethal injection, but just to tell him about her little girl and how much she misses her.
Before this, Angela was against the death penalty. Now she has mixed feelings. But while they've put her through hell, she doesn't hate the young men who killed her daughter. Like Theresa, she feels there were many lives lost that night, many families shattered. She is not alone in her grief.
Angela feels only an emptiness that was once filled by a daughter's love. While other parents have scrapbooks detailing their children's accomplishments, she has one filled with newspaper clippings. While other parents can touch their children, hold them close, she has to visit a steel cross at highway mile marker 269.5.
She knows that as the blood poured out of Brandy, her last thoughts were that if she could just get to her mother, she would be all right. Brandy was always worried that something would happen to her mom. Just the other day, Angela had found a note Brandy wrote. Please God, don't ever let my Mom die.
But the hill Brandy had to climb that night was too high. Sometimes Angela goes there and a butterfly circles her head or a warm breeze caresses her cheek, and she chooses to believe that it's Brandy saying hello. It's no replacement for a lost child.
Across the aisle, Theresa has let friends and family members know that regardless of the verdict, she doesn't want any outbursts. Out of respect for Brandy's people.
Raquel hurries in, late, trembling and fearful that it is already over. Her mother calms her. Antonio wanted to be here, too. But Theresa wouldn't hear of it. Instead, she put Patricia on a plane so that she could visit him while the trial was going on. She smiles, recalling her granddaughter's two favorite memories of the trip: The sand was soft, and she saw sharks at an aquarium.
Danny used to see the world like that...as a great, big, wonderful place that demanded he be up and out of the house at the crack of dawn. And now look...
The jurors enter the courtroom. The judge has allowed Theresa and Raquel and a few other members of the family to sit in the first row close to Danny. Her boy leans forward in his chair, his hair in a ponytail, his elbows on the table and hands clasped in front.
As her family and friends draw closer, all holding each other, struggling for control, Theresa is ready. She trusts that whatever this jury's decision, God will see that it is the right one. She couldn't ask for more...except, perhaps, for the opportunity to reach out to Brandy's mother. You carry them in your womb, you love them, you set them on the road and hope.
The judge is handed the verdict forms. "In regard to counts one and two, first-degree murder...we the jury find the defendant Daniel Martinez...guilty."
The word drops into silence. Heads on both sides of the aisle bow, hands reach out to each other.
With the judge's thanks, the jury is excused. Danny stands and the handcuffs quickly circle his wrists. Before he's led away, he turns and tells his family, "I love you."
"We love you," they respond quietly.
"Thank you, Your Honor," Danny says. "You're welcome," the judge replies. And then Danny is gone.
There are no angels here. No devils. There are only the lost, and those who mourn them.
See I have not forgotten you. I have carved you in the palm of my hand.
Visit www.westword.com to read parts one through three of "Dealing with the Devil.
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