Video Nixed

Judge in Montoya trial tosses video of group fight at Swan Park

Defense attorneys for Estevan Montoya, accused of first-degree murder, won a small victory after the jury went home Wednesday when Judge T. Glenn Ellington reversed a decision to allow video evidence of Montoya and his friends fighting with another group about six months before he shot Fedonta “JB” White.

The video from January of 2020 shows two sets of young people meeting at Swan Park for what prosecutors call an “organized fight.” Montoya is seen pulling a gun from his waistband and chasing others around—evidence, prosecutors say, that would gut his claim that he was afraid for his life the night he killed White.

The defense has argued the death of Montoya’s friend, Ivan Perez, in July of 2020, led to him carrying the gun he shot White with at a party in Chupadero.

“This, along with other evidence, clearly shows that he wasn’t operating in fear, he wasn’t scared and that he not only possessed [a gun], but was engaged in this state of mind in January,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias.

However, after Ellington dismissed the jury for the day, he reversed his earlier decision to allow prosecutors to show the video in court. He cited another case in which the state Court of Appeals ruled that 13-year-old testimony in a trial surrounding a shooting was inadmissible. The Appeals Court reversed the conviction in that case and remanded it back to District Court for a retrial.

“The groups [in the video] were a little different than the partygoers in Chupadero, but if that is a theory of depraved-mind murder—that somehow that state of mind existed for six months or longer—the concern is that it does look like propensity evidence [which is inadmissble], unless there’s something else tying it to this particular location,” Ellington said.

Meanwhile, Wednesday’s witness testimony came from forensic scientists, who discussed potential fingerprints and gunpowder residue found on White’s clothing. Investigators found .380 caliber casings at the scene, but the weapon Montoya fired at White has never been recovered. Defense attorney Dan Marlowe told detectives around the time of the shooting that his client tossed the gun.

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators found a Taurus 9 mm semiautomatic handgun when they searched the home of a teen believed to have fled with Montoya the night of the party. The Taurus was stolen from a Santa Fe woman, who also noticed a Ruger .380 caliber handgun was missing from her car.

New Mexico Department of Public Safety forensic scientist Jeffrey Smith, who processed the Taurus 9 mm, said he found a fingerprint on the magazine, but he could neither directly link the print to anyone nor exclude Montoya’s print.

Alina Sanchez, an expert in firearm and toolmark analysis, was given White’s clothes to examine during the investigation. She detected gunpowder residue and small particles of lead on the outside of the Philadelphia 76′ers jersey he was wearing the night he died. But with no gun to evaluate, she couldn’t perform a “muzzle-to-target calibration.” In other words, she couldn’t definitely measure the distance from which Montoya fired at White.

“Generally speaking…I can say it was likely fired at less than 3 feet,” she said.

White, a standout Santa Fe basketball player preparing to take his game to the University of New Mexico, was taller and stronger than his accused murderer, Montoya, defense attorneys say.

Ben Ortega, also representing Montoya in the First Judicial District Court, wants Santa Fe High School head coach Zack Cole to take the stand to speak to White’s height, weight, speed and strength. He said one of the elements of self defense is showing that Montoya felt he was facing death or great bodily harm.

“To establish that element, especially in a fist fight, you have to establish that the person is capable of inflicting great bodily harm,” Ortega said.

Cole was already under subpoena by the District Attorney’s Office. Assistant Deputy District Attorney Blake Nichols said his testimony would be irrelevant. The court has already excluded testimony related to White’s on-court behaviors, which Nichols pointed out.

“This is the same big, bad, mean basketball player stuff we litigated already,” he said.

Ellington said he would allow the defense to ask the basketball coach only about White’s general physical condition, height and weight.

Also on Wednesday, Ellington booted a victim’s advocate from the courtroom after learning she told a defense witness he could not sit in on the trial. He said she had no authority to regulate who can attend public hearings and barred her from returning until after the trial.

The state is expected to wrap up its case on Thursday, with the defense calling its first witnesses Friday.

Letters to the Editor

Mail letters to PO Box 4910 Santa Fe, NM 87502 or email them to editor[at] Letters (no more than 200 words) should refer to specific articles in the Reporter. Letters will be edited for space and clarity.

We also welcome you to follow SFR on social media (on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) and comment there. You can also email specific staff members from our contact page.