The Final Judgment

Hal Sargent takes a last glance at his notes before looking up at the panel of judges. Two years of prosecuting members of the Deuce-Seven Bloods gang for the May 1997 rape and murder of fourteen-year-old Brandy DuVall are nearly at an end. This is not the time to falter.

The task has been monumental. Three murder trials. Endless meetings with attorneys to make deals and get co-defendants to roll over and testify against the others. Innumerable hearings to quibble with other attorneys over legal technicalities.

Then four sentencings. And finally, two death-penalty hearings, including this one for Francisco "Pancho" Martinez Jr., who sits twelve feet to Sargent's right, staring sullenly up at the three judges who will decide if he lives or dies.

Sargent is young, clean-cut and, like the other Jefferson County deputy district attorneys who make up the prosecution team, Mark Randall and Ingrid Bakke, deeply tired of the DuVall case. They are all emotionally and physically spent.

It has been difficult to get up each morning and generate the energy necessary to continue this course--and it's been even harder since the first death-penalty hearing for co-defendant Danny "Bang" Martinez Jr. in late April. Not that Sargent believes any less in what he is doing, but like an actor in a play that keeps going night after night, he finds the material has grown old, flat. He feels the danger of Brandy becoming two-dimensional, a footnote in the law books--instead of a young girl who died so horribly at the hands of these young men.

Now, on May 19, less than two weeks shy of the day two years ago when Brandy DuVall's savaged body was found alongside Clear Creek, the finish line is in sight. Lead defense attorney Dave Kaplan has delivered his closing arguments, but the last word will be Sargent's.

"Mr. Kaplan ended with a point that I think deserves some comment," he says. "Can we explain? Can we understand Mr. Martinez?

"One of the things I think we do in courtrooms is, we lose sight of the focus. I have great respect for what mental-health professionals do in attempting to understand behavior, understand causes so that it can be treated. But that is not the focus here.

"To understand does not mean to excuse. Mr. Martinez has told everyone who would listen what he's about, who he is. He said in 1989 to John Malloy, 'I enjoy hurting people.' He told Stacy Pike, 'I want to be famous for killing people.' He told her that his favorite hobby was shooting people because he 'liked to watch the bodies jump.'

"We can hope to understand and to explain what combination of forces make Francisco Martinez the man he is. But when we're done with that, when we're done with explaining who he is, the question is: So what? What do we make of it? Do we excuse him?"

As Sargent speaks, 25-year-old Francisco keeps his eyes averted. His mouth hangs slightly open; he looks like a man who realizes this is it. The end. He no longer has the demeanor of the gangbanger who at his murder trial last August smiled and smirked at Brandy's family, then told Sargent, "Fuck you, you pussy," when the prosecutor intervened.

Francisco's hair has been shaved to a dark stubble that matches his goatee. He wears a long-sleeved white dress shirt that hides the gang tattoos on his arms and covers the long, ugly scar on his belly where a surgeon opened him after he was shot in 1994; the shirt fits loosely, even across his thick shoulders, so that it covers the electric-shock belt that bulges from his lower back.

Francisco wasn't in this Jeffco courtroom for most of the hearing. On the first day, his lawyers had asked that he be allowed to stay in his cell, because he didn't want to hear the bad things they were going to say about his family in their effort to save his life. Of course, that meant he wouldn't have to hear from Brandy's family about the suffering he'd caused them, either.

But Francisco has been back in the courtroom for the last two days, to listen to defense psychologists explain why he had joined a gang, explain his propensity for violence, explain his inability to make good decisions while drunk and under stress.

Francisco's lawyers also look worn out. Pat Ridley slumps in his chair beside the defendant, a pen in his mouth. Next to Ridley, still jotting notes and passing them to his co-counsels, is Dean Neuwirth, a legal expert brought in to counter the lawyer from the Colorado Attorney General's Office who sits with the prosecution to aid on matters of legal precedence in death-penalty cases.

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Steve Jackson