Courtroom Theatrics

Defense in Montoya trial uses expert witness to demonstrate path of bullet that killed White

On the eighth day of the murder trial for Estevan Montoya, proceedings featured some courtroom theater as a defense witness used a member of the defense team to model the path of the bullet that killed Fedonta “JB” White at a high school party in Chupadero in August of 2020.

Montoya’s lawyers contend that he fired the gun in self-defense while White was chasing after him. To support that argument, they brought in Lawrence Renner, a former pathologist’s assistant who claims to be an expert in crime scene reconstruction, to demonstrate that White’s body was likely slightly bent over at the time he was shot, as if he was running towards Montoya.

Ben Ortega, representing Montoya, dressed in a white T-shirt that had two red dots on it—one on the upper chest, indicating the location of where the bullet entered White; and one on the back to show where it lodged against White’s spine. Renner had Ortega stand on a step stool so that he would be the same height as White, and, using a laser pointer, showed jurors what he believed would have to have occurred for the bullet to go into White’s chest and down into the 8th vertebrae of his spine.

Renner said Montoya would have had to have shot at a downward angle, based on the state’s pathology report, for White to have received the wound that killed him. White was 5 to 6 inches taller than Montoya, so White would have been bent over at the time of the incident, Renner said.

“My analysis of the pathologist’s report, using my skeletal model and using a live model, all confirms [the defense’s] original theory in the case,” Renner said.

Chief Deputy Assistant District Attorney Blake Nichols pressed Renner on his qualifications to testify as an expert witness, emphasizing that he hasn’t received training in bullet trajectories in 11 years, that he hasn’t had autopsy training in 51 years and that he hasn’t worked as an assistant pathologist in roughly 20 years.

Nichols also questioned the accuracy of Renner’s demonstrative testimony, pointing out that Ortega is much shorter than White was.

“Would it be a fair demonstration to take somebody who is 4′11″, jack them up to make them 6′4″ and then put dots on a T-shirt?” Nichols asked.

“It would be a fair demonstration,” Renner responded. “It would not, necessarily, be the best demonstration.”

Defense witness Jeremiah Aguirre, the brother of one of the teens involved in an argument outside on the porch the night of the party, testified that he saw the shooting take place and that White threw a “superman punch” at Montoya just before the defendant ran away and fired his gun. He also acted out for the jury how Montoya ran away.

During cross examination, Chief Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Padgett Macias referred to an interview with detectives in which Aguirre couldn’t identify Montoya as the shooter. He testified in court, though, that he did see his face.

“You saw his eyes,” she said, summarizing Aguirre’s testimony. “In fact, he froze, looked at you, faced the crowd, looked back at the house. You watched Estevan shoot and kill JB White on Aug. 1, but on Aug. 6, you only identified him as ‘that guy.’”

Outside the presence of the jury, Judge T. Glenn Ellington ruled that Zach Cole, White’s basketball coach at Santa Fe High, would not be allowed to testify. The defense requested he take the stand to inquire about White’s physical condition in an effort to show Montoya could have reasonably felt like he was in immediate danger.

Witness testimony and closing arguments are expected to come Monday.

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