Dealing With the Devil

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. Her son Danny is sitting in a Jefferson County jail cell, awaiting trial for the gang rape and murder of a fourteen-year-old girl.

Brandaline Rose DuVall. The mention of her name evokes tears from Theresa, who's sitting on a couch in her living room, surrounded by dozens of photographs of family. "I pray to her all the time...try to tell her how sorry I am." She tilts her head and looks down, as though the floor might open up and reveal why this had happened. When she is in a contemplative mood, she has a habit of affirming her comments with a nod and a whispered "Yeah." Try to tell her how sorry I am...yeah.

Danny's trial is set for February. If convicted, he could be put to death. As ashamed and as angry as she is with her 25-year-old son, her oldest son, she doesn't want him to die. She wants him to plead guilty to avoid the death penalty. Even if it means abandoning his best friend, "Pancho," to his fate and then spending the rest of his life in prison.

"I admit part of that's selfish," she says. "I don't want to sit through a trial and listen to what they did to that poor little girl. And I want him to be alive for his two little boys.

"But even more, I don't want her, the girl's mother, to have to go through another trial. I've told him that, but he's in denial." She pauses, looks down again. "Yeah."

Danny is telling her he can't accept a plea bargain unless Panch--Francisco Martinez--lets him know it's okay. Francisco has already been convicted of first-degree murder and faces a death-penalty hearing in May. He told his lawyer, Dave Kaplan, that it was all right for Danny to save himself. But Danny doesn't trust lawyers--even Panch's lawyer--and he wants his childhood friend to pass the word through Danny's sister, Raquel, or his brother, Antonio.

"He says he doesn't want Panch to think he's leaving him to die all by himself," says Theresa. "I asked him when I visited him last week, 'What about my feelings? Don't they matter? And what about compassion for that girl's family?' And he said, 'Yes, but this is about how I feel, too. I can't say something to hurt Pancho.'"

Daniel "Bang" Martinez Jr., 25-year-old Francisco "Pancho" Martinez and seventeen-year-old Frank "Little Bang" Vigil Jr. are three of the seven members of the Deuce-Seven Crenshaw Mafia Gangster Bloods originally charged with the first-degree murder, first-degree sexual assault and second-degree kidnapping of Brandy DuVall. Her torn and bloody body was discovered next to a mountain stream west of Golden on May 31, 1997.

The four other members accepted plea bargains in exchange for their testimony. One of the government's two star witnesses, Samuel "Zig Zag" Quintana Jr., is the 25-year-old son of Theresa's sister. He confessed to the second-degree murders of not one but two young women to "save himself," Theresa says, "and the prosecutors bend over backward to talk about his 'redeeming qualities' and believe everything he says about what happened that night."

The murder has frayed a once close-knit family. The government's other key witness is Jose Martinez Jr., the brother of Theresa's first husband, Daniel Martinez Sr., and her boys' uncle.

Frank Vigil Jr.'s mother, Sally, was one of Theresa's best friends when the girls were growing up in Curtis Park. Sally's cousin, Pam, had been Jose Martinez's common-law wife; Sally married Pam's brother, Frank Vigil. And Theresa's brother, Oney, is married to Norma Quintana, another childhood friend of Theresa's and the sister of Sammy Quintana's father.

Theresa still considers Sally Vigil one of her dearest friends, although they aren't as close as they once were and Sally is "coming apart" with her middle son now sentenced to life in prison. Francisco's mother, Linda, who for years blamed Danny and Antonio, and therefore, Theresa, for her son's involvement in the gang, wouldn't talk to her for months after Francisco was arrested. "Now we share our grief," Theresa says.

But Theresa and her sister, Patty, who's divorced from Sammy's father, are estranged: They haven't seen or spoken to each other since the day Sammy was arrested for Brandy's murder. Theresa remains close to Norma but has "nothing to say" to Norma's brother, Sam.

And everybody is angry with Jose, "Uncle Joe," but not, as the prosecutors contend, because he's testifying. "Because he allowed our children to get this deep into trouble when he could have stopped it," says Theresa.

She knows that what happened to Brandy was horrible and that the killers, including her son, "should pay for what they did." But it doesn't seem fair.

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Steve Jackson