Judgment Day

Page 8 of 17

But what put Francisco in that position? Ridley says the defense will offer an overview of his client's wretched childhood as a mitigator, although it's "politically unpopular" to make such a connection for why boys join gangs. Such testimony will include his mother's suicide attempt in a local church. "Think of the impact on an eleven-year-old Catholic boy who had just had his first Holy Communion."

Francisco was not "bad at four, not evil. When he was eight or nine, he was not a demon," Ridley says. He outlines a childhood marred by violence between his parents, the family's abandonment by his father when Francisco was four, his witnessing of a murder at eight and finding the nude, dead body of woman in a neighborhood dumpster at ten.

The boy slept in his mother's bed until she remarried, when Francisco was twelve. After that, he curled himself up on the floor outside her bedroom and cried himself to sleep. And soon, Francisco moved out of his house and into the home of Danny and Antonio Martinez, "neighborhood friends whose mother was a heroin addict...and that was still better than his own house."

Turning slightly toward Brandy's family, Ridley says he would be remiss if he did not comment on the "unfortunate incident" during Francisco's trial. His client's behavior was defensive and born of frustration after hearing so many bad things said about him in the prosecution's opening statement.

"I don't think he was meaning to be disrespectful," Ridley now says to Brandy's mom, Angela. The actions stemmed from the depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome from which Francisco suffers--conditions psychologists will address during the hearing.

A sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole--the sentence received by Danny Martinez and Frank Vigil--would be just punishment, Ridley says. It would be vengeance only "that requires he die by lethal injection."

After lunch, Francisco is granted his wish to wait out the hearing in his cell. Before he is handcuffed and led away, Villano assures him that he's free to return to the courtoom "anytime you want."

Now Sargent begins calling up members of Brandy's family to express what her death has done to them. But the one person who should listen to them is gone.

Brandy's grandfather, Paul Vasquez. I needed her and she needed me.
His wife, Rose, for whom Brandy received her middle name. I loved her deeply and miss her terribly.

At Danny's trial, the defense lawyers pretty much sat in their seats during the victim-impact statements and listened politely. But these are different lawyers.

As Rose begins to talk about how painful it has been for her to imagine what Brandy suffered, Neuwirth objects. Such statements should be limited to the sort of person the victim was and what her loss meant to the family, he argues, not about the crime itself. That would be a violation of his client's right to due process.

Sargent counters that the horrific nature of the crime is part of what the family has to deal with: Not just Brandy's murder, but how she was murdered.

Judge Villano agrees with Neuwirth, however. Whatever Rose's mind has "conjured up" about Brandy's suffering will be considered speculation and ignored by the judges.

Tiny and in tears, Rose hesitantly--as though waiting for the defense lawyers to jump up again--finishes her statement for the last time. A cold stone does not satisfy the arms of a 74-year-old woman.

Just getting through the first day of testimony is an ordeal. After the family members speak, the prosecution calls on witnesses who can detail Francisco's many encounters with the justice system.

These include probation officers, halfway-house counselors and cops. They often are reading records written by others, provoking numerous objections from Neuwirth about the hearsay nature of such testimony. It doesn't allow Francisco, through his lawyers, his constitutional right to confront his accusers directly through cross-examination.

The prosecutors note that the rules of evidence don't apply at sentencing hearings. That means a certain amount of hearsay is allowed.

The objections are overruled. Neuwirth's frequent return to the same subject finally irritates Villano, who testily notes that he'd already ruled on the appearance of these witnesses prior to the hearing. "Let's get on with it," he says.

And they do. Among the day's witnesses:
Theodore LeDoux, a probation officer with Denver Juvenile Court, testifies that Francisco seemed to have a good relationship with his mother, Linda (combating the expected defense allegations that she was a bad mom), and that she tried to get her son out of the neighborhood after Crips shot at him in 1988.

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Steve Jackson