The murder trial for the accused teenaged killer of local basketball player Fedonta "J.B." White will stay in Santa Fe, state District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled Thursday morning. Ellington denied a motion from the alleged shooter's defense counsel, Dan Marlowe, to move the trial to Los Alamos.
Marlowe argued in his motion, filed in December, that White was so well known and well liked in Santa Fe that it would be impossible for his client, 17-year-old Estevan Montoya, to get a fair trial. The trial is scheduled for this summer.
Prosecutors have charged Montoya, who was 16 at the time he allegedly shot White at a party last summer, as an adult. The teenager faces charges of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence, unlawful carrying of a handgun by a person under 19 years old and negligent use of a deadly weapon.
In his decision, Ellington sided with Chief Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols' argument that Marlowe did not provide evidence other than the probability that Montoya would not receive a fair trial, which the judge said is not sufficient to change the trial venue.
There are "mechanisms built into the system" to make sure a chosen jury is not biased toward Montoya, Ellington said, including a special questionnaire and a larger pool of people to interview for a potential jury.
The court also took up two more motions raised by Marlowe: one to exclude all of the state's witnesses who have their address listed as the District Attorney's Office, and another to release Montoya from custody while he awaits trial as a sanction against prosecutors for what he claims is an excessive witness list.
Ellington quickly shut down the possibility of Montoya's release Thursday. But he told Marlowe he could file a separate motion if he still wanted the court to consider the teenager's release before trial.
Ellington allowed the two lawyers to duke it out over the exclusion of witnesses.
Marlowe argued that the state's 156 witnesses are all within prosecutors' "sphere of influence." Marlowe also alleged that the DA's Office told witnesses not to speak to him before speaking with the state.
"The state has told investigators to tell witnesses to speak with the DA before the defense counsel," Marlowe said. "That is a direct attempt by the state to suppress exculpatory evidence or prevent discovery of exculpatory evidence. It's unconstitutional and improper under the circumstances."
Nichols contends that he and Marlowe made an agreement over email that the defense attorney would let the state know of any witnesses he wanted to interview beforehand and that interviews would be conducted with both parties present. Nichols said the state "typically" schedules pretrial interviews and that Marlowe agreed he would not take statements without the DA's Office present.
Ellington declined to rule and instead said he would take all arguments under advisement while the state sends him the emails showing the alleged agreement on how to proceed.